Amnesia is a mental condition that is characterized by loss of memory. The affected individuals may not have a good memory of an event that occurred in a short period prior to the reference time. Amnesia manifests itself differently and the kind of information that is lost by individuals may differ as well.
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The memory is disturbed and a piece of information that had been acquired may be blurred or appear completely. In other cases, amnesiacs may only recall new events or newly acquired information and lose the information that had been in the memory for a long time.
In some scenarios, an individual loses memory for a particular event. In other cases, the individual is able to have a good memory of given information but cannot recall its roots. An amnesiac may recall tragic event like road accident that occurred in his or her life. However, he/she may not be able to recall the events that occurred just before and after the scene. Other individuals may have good memory of skills learned in school while they are not able to develop a cognitive ability for their personal identities.
Several factors can cause amnesia and more studies carried out psychology pertaining to amnesia reveal causal factors. There are individuals who experienced such problems since their childhood. The condition could be acquired at a later stage in life following the causal factors. The condition could result from drug use, mental disorder, stress, and depression following a traumatic experience, or physical damage to the brain following an accident or shock.
Abuse of drugs such as excessive use of alcohol may interfere with an individual’s cognitive ability. Drug effects could also be witnessed in the situation where a patient is induced with a drug before an operation. Wrong use of such drugs may pose problems to the patient’s memory. A traumatic experience like a tragic car accident may interfere with the victim’s memory of the events that occurred before or after the accident.
These factors interfere with the function of hippocampus, the section of the human brain that is responsible for the development of memory, storing and organizing information. Information could be present in one’s memory but cannot be accessed. The inability to recall an event may occur just because the information is not organized in the memory area for proper retrieval.
Lack of proper long-term memory is a hindrance to the learning process and acquisition of new skills. It also impedes the individual’s personal development. An area of interest is thus a mechanism that is to be used to manage this condition.
The research question
This paper is based on the previous studies and seeks to determine which criteria (if any) are the most appropriate in the management of amnesia to enhance long-term memory. It attempts to find out if the subjects of amnesia can be made to acquire new semantic information after and attack. A brief look at the types of amnesia, their causes and how they are manifested in different individuals provide a basis for the studies that have been carried out to investigate the appropriate remedy.
Types of Amnesia
Amnesia can be categorized according to their nature and effects or according to their causes. Based on the nature, amnesia can be categorized as anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia. In anterograde amnesia, an individual experiences loss of short-term memory.
He or she is not able to retain new information or event in the memory and transfer it into permanent temporary. The information that was received after the attack cannot be retained for long in the memory. The attack results into disorder in the functioning of the brain that bars the transfer of information from the short-term memory to long-term memory. In retrograde amnesia, an individual is not able to recall the events that occurred before the attack. Both the types of amnesia can occur in an individual.
Based on the causal mechanism, there are different types of amnesia. These include hysterical posttraumatic amnesia, transient global amnesia, dissociative amnesia, childhood amnesia, among many others. Posttraumatic amnesia follow a traumatic event and could be anterograde or retrograde (Cantu, 2001, para.12). Transient global amnesia occurs spontaneously with irregular causes.
Causes of Amnesia
The occurrence of this condition may follow several factors. Some of the factors are mental disorder and posttraumatic stress. The condition could result from organic factors like trauma, a disease, or an effective drug that damage to the brain (Sharma, 2011, para.2-7). Amnesia could also follow psychological factors resulting from the traumatic experience.
Some forms of amnesia are witnessed from the childhood of an individual and could be attributed to the gene factors of the parents. Other types of amnesia occur spontaneously like the transient global amnesia. It could be an effect of a defense mechanism following a traumatic experience.
Effects of Amnesia
Amnesia has a number of effects on the victims. Some of these effects may be seen shortly after the attack whereas the others may take longer to be seen.
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One of the common effects is the inability the affected individual to see into the future. The individual cannot recall past events and thus cannot have an imagination of what the future events might be like. The damage that is caused to the hippocampus in the brain does not allow the victim to recollect the past in order to picture the future. Besides, the condition usually results in a psychological problem in the end.
Management of amnesia
Various studies have been carried out to determine the most appropriate mechanism to manage amnesia and the fate of these victims after the attack. What emerges from the studies is that the management of the condition will highly depend on the cause and subsequently the type of amnesia identified.
As has been stated, some forms of amnesia are short-lived and may only occur once in a lifetime. Such conditions may improve even without an intervention. Others would prevail for a longer period and require some form of therapeutic intervention or medication. Change of an individual’s lifestyle following a directive by an occupational therapist may provide a good remedy for some forms of amnesia.
The management of transient global amnesia may not be the same as that of dissociative amnesia. An effective method that has been observed for the management of most types of amnesia is through psychotherapy. Dissociative amnesia could be managed through this method. It is necessary that the clinician be very comfortable with the different types of psychological interventions to be used such as behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, cognitive therapy or psychopharmacological management (Sharma, 2011, para.14).
There have been false perceptions that psychotherapy could lead to the cases of corroboration of memories. In their study of amnesia, corroboration and dissociation in relation to childhood abuse, Chu et al (1999) found out that recovery of false memory was very common in the victims of child abuse that were not under therapy. The study followed arguments that the therapeutic services provided by the clinicians contributed largely to the development of false memory, especially in the victims of child abuse (Chu et al, 1999, p.749).
The study involved an examination of dissociative symptoms and details of child abuse among the participants. Indicators of amnesia following a traumatic experience were also sought from the participants. Different aspects of the victim’s recovered memory were also examined. The results that were obtained from the study suggested that psychotherapy treatments are not behind the development of pseudomemories after an attack (Chu et al, 1999, p.754).
Tsai (2011) provides a brief report of an individual who suffered amnesia and is not able to recover from the situation. Despite the medical intervention that the patient has undergone for over seven months, Dr Theresa Wang is still not able to forget the horrible car accident in which he sustained severe injuries (Tsai, 2011, para.3).
She has obtained various forms of medical treatments and therapy all to no good. As such, the medical practitioner has set given up her job to go and relax with the family members. The necessity of psychotherapy is evidenced in this case. The healing process should also not focus on the cause of the accident as was maintained by the husband of the doctor. In this scenario, a psychological intervention (through group therapy) may do better than the medical approach in management of amnesia.
Effective management of the amnesia also consists in the identification of the condition. The different types of amnesia like TGA should not be confused with other medical conditions like cerebrovascular accident (CVA) and subarachnoid hemorrhage. In a case study, Harrison and Williams (2007) provided an insight on the proper management of transient global amnesia (TGA).
It requires a proper identification of the signs and symptoms that are associated with the condition. Transient global amnesia is characterized by a temporary loss of anterograde memory (Harrison & Williams, 2007). The affected victims are not able to recall the events that have occurred in the immediate past.
The condition may or may not last for long. TGA is believed to have relation with epilepsy, transient ischaemic attacks (TIA), and intracranial venous stasis (Harrison & Williams, 2007). A criterion had been developed by Hodges and Warlow in 1990 to manage the situation. In the case study, the duo illustrates how a wrong diagnosis was given to a woman who suffered transient global ischaemia and how their intervention to give the proper diagnosis helped the woman recover.
The woman was performing a chore that was tiresome when she froze all over sudden. Afterwards, she lost her memory and could not recall the events that occurred in the last two hours. She could retain some information for only a few minutes before it disappeared (Harrison & Williams, 2007). She was later diagnosed with TIA and given the proper medication. However, her condition did not improve prompting her husband to seek help elsewhere.
The criteria developed by Hodge and Warlow require that before a diagnosis with TGA, the patient must have shown signs of anterograde amnesia when she was attacked. It also required that the condition be resolved within one day (Harrison & Williams, 2007, para.11).
The patient is required to have no history of active epilepsy or head injuries before the attack. There should be witnesses of the attack and an evidence of the attack being reported when it occurred before a TGA diagnosis (Harrison & Williams, 2007, para.11). All these conditions need to be met by a patient before he or she can be diagnosed with TGA.
Harrison and Williams (2007) also pointed out that since transient global amnesia is less likely to reoccur, providing psychological support to the amnesiac and the affected/related individuals like family and friends play big role in resolving the condition (Harrison & Williams, 2007). It involves meeting the psychological needs of the patients and his or her relatives to avoid memory of the unfriendly event that led to such a condition.
Recent developments also show that an examination of the human pupil during the learning process could also be used to identify if an individual has a memory loss. Researchers at the University of Sussex observed the changes in the size of the human pupil when the individuals were subjected to recognition memory instructions (Anonymous, 2001, para.2).
The researchers concluded that the size of the pupil had a strong association with the recognition of new or old items. Other methods could include the use of La Trobe Communication questionnaire for adolescents with difficulties in communication following a brain damage (Douglas, 2010, p.171).
Some researches and theoretical perspectives held out that subjects of amnesia are not able to learn and acquire new semantic information after an attack by even a very mild amnesia. However, a study by Tulving, Hayman, and MacDonald (1991) showed that this is not always the case.
In their study, they found out that under special conditions and extensive training, an amnesiac is able to acquire purely semantic information (Tulving, Hayman & MacDonald, 1991, p.597). The research revealed that the condition under which an amnesiac is trained greatly affects their ability learn and acquire information.
Amnesia is seen to take different dimensions following different causal factors. The signs and symptoms that indicate the mental condition may also differ depending on the cause of the disease. Some types of amnesia occur in a short period and the victim is able to resolve the situation after a short period without an intervention. Other forms would require and intervention by a psychotherapist and later by an occupational therapist.
The poor perceptions by certain researchers that psychotherapy contributes to development of pseudomemories have been invalidated by recent researches. The proper management of the different types needs a proper identification signs and symptoms associated with the condition. Care needs to be taken so that this condition is not confused with other problems associated with the central nervous system. This will ensure that a proper diagnosis is provided to the amnesiacs.
The management of the amnesia also requires psychological intervention. After a diagnosis with amnesia, the affected victims should be subjected to psychotherapy. A psychological and occupational therapist will help the patient and the patient’s relatives to recover from the situation by avoiding the memory of the past episodes.
Anonymous. (2011). Cognition; Researchers at University of Sussex Publish New Data on Cognition. Health and Medicine week. Web.
Cantu, R. (2001). Posttraumatic Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia: Pathophysiology and Implications in Grading and Safe Return to Play. J Athl Train. 36(3): 244–248. Web.
Chu, A. et al. Memories of Childhood Abuse: Dissociation, Amnesia, and Corroboration. Am J Psychiatry 156(5); 749-755. Web.
Douglas, J. (2010). Using the La Trobe Communication Questionnaire to Measure Perceived Social Communication Ability in Adolescents With Traumatic Brain Injury. Brain Impairment 11(2); 171-182. Web.
Harrison, M. and Williams, M. (2007). The diagnosis and management of transient global amnesia in the emergency department. Emerg Med J, 24(6):444-445. Web.
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Tulving, E., Hayman, G. and MacDonald, C. (1991). Long-lasting perceptual priming and semantic learning in Amnesia: A case experiment Journal of experimental psychology 17(4); 595-617. Web.
Tsai, M. (2011). Crash victim, husband ready to rest after a long recovery Tribune Business News Washington. Web.