Amnesia: Beyond the Tropes

You’ve read it a million times. The heroine (or hero) has no memory of who she is. No name. No remembered family. No past. Amnesia, says the doctor. And the story takes off. She (or he) attempts to recover her name. Her family. Her past. A little frightened and a lot intrigued, you are hooked.

image of colorful but empty frames, like memory loss or amnesia

You’ve read it so many times, it’s entertaining but not surprising. However, reality might surprise you.

Over the last month we’ve been talking about memory. In my post “What Do You Remember and How” you learned about the study of memory, the stages of memory, and the types of memory. “Do You Have a Terrible Memory?” discussed why you forget, the types of forgetting, and what normal forgetting is. You also learned that there were two umbrella terms that describe abnormal types of forgetting: Amnesia and Dementia.

You may be like me. You’ve read so many stories and seen so many movies or television shows whose characters suffered amnesia that you think you understand what it is. You could be wrong.

Do You Know What It Is? 

Amnesia is total or partial loss of the ability to recall experiences or events that happened in the preceding few seconds, in the preceding few days, or further back in time.

You knew that, right? After all, that’s what the big and little screen and novels say. But did you know that people with amnesia rarely forget their name and their motor skills? Remember, I said memory is complex? So is forgetting.

What Causes Amnesia?

That’s a huge subject. Because we store our memories in bits and pieces throughout our brains, damage to any part of the brain can cause one or another form of amnesia. The list of things that can damage your brain is a little frightening.

  • A nutritional disorder, particularly thiamin deficiency
  • A severe head injury that affects the brain, a concussion or severe trauma (mild head injuries rarely cause permanent amnesia)
  • Disorders that reduce the supply of blood or nutrients to the brain (including strokes and cardiac arrest)
  • Seizures
  • A brain infection (encephalitis)
  • Disorders that reduce the supply of blood, oxygen, or nutrients to the brain)
  • Alcohol abuse (both short term and chronic forms of alcohol abuse can cause amnesia)
  • A brain tumor
  • Severe mental stress, such as an emotional shock or trauma from physical or sexual abuse, or being the victim or witness of a violent crime
  • Use of certain drugs, such as some antidepressants, muscle relaxants, or opioids, and amphotericin B or lithium
  • Degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Damage to the thalamus or hippocampus (parts of the brain and limbic system responsible for memory)

The Five Types of Amnesia

Retrograde Amnesia—In this type of forgetting, you lose existing memories. Typically, it affects your most recent memories first. 

Anterograde Amnesia—with this kind of memory loss you cannot form new memories such as during an alcoholic or drug-induced blackout.

Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)—is an abrupt onset of anterograde amnesia that lasts from one to eight hours and affects people ages 40 to 80 years of age (average age is 61). Read more about TGA here.

Infantile Amnesia—the most common type of amnesia is the loss of memory of early childhood. Most people cannot remember the first three to five years of life.

Dissociative Amnesia—in this rare form of forgetting, the information lost would normally be part of conscious awareness and you might call it autobiographic memory. Read more here

How is Amnesia Diagnosed?

A key labeled memories, if you have amnesia it would be nice to find a key to your memories

When someone arrives in the emergency room with a sudden memory loss, the doctor often orders an MRI or CAT scan to check for brain damage from a stroke or tumor. The doctors will also check blood work and take a detailed history. 

Often a neurologist or neuropsychologist will perform a cognitive behavior test. This usually is a series of questions, some with multiple-step instructions or a list of three or more items which you’re asked to repeat back at various times during the test.

Do people with Amnesia Forget Everything?

image of a blank pice of canvas pinned to the wall

When people suffer from sudden memory loss, the memories that they lose are generally what are known as episodic or explicit –they forget events and facts. They do not lose their implicit or procedural memory, which is what allows us to perform functions such as operating a cell phone or riding a bike.

Improve Memory

Most often people suffering from sudden memory loss remember their name, their spouse, their dog. But they have difficulty with everyday activities because they can’t remember where they are going or what they’ve already done or said. They get frightened and frustrated and confused.

How Long Does Amnesia Last?

Recovery depends upon the severity of the disease or trauma that caused the amnesia. Most people recover their memories in time. In amnesia caused by some medications, recovery can be within minutes. Other cases may require days, months, or even years to recover. Sometimes the person never recovers their memories.

How Do You Treat Amnesia

If there’s a specific and known cause of amnesia, the cause will be treated. There’s no medication specific to amnesia. As I said above, often no treatment is necessary. Occupational therapy teaches skills and methods for dealing with memory loss. Sometimes, psychotherapy helps people adjust to memory loss and move forward.

But What About Dementia?

Dementia is more than forgetting. With dementia the memory loss is progressive and accompanied by cognitive problems that lead to a decreased ability to perform activities of daily living. Remember dementia is another umbrella term. We’ll discuss that and specific diseases soon.

Want to Know More?

My sources for this post include the, the Merck Manual,, and the NIH. If you choose other sources, verify that the information is based on medical science. You may also wish to ask your doctor for more information.

Remembering and Forgetting

Remembering and forgetting are complex issues. And story books and movies aside, amnesia is frightening to everyone involved. This post skims over this information in an effort to answer questions and point you to more answers. If you have concerns about yourself, a friend, or family member, please consult your physician. Otherwise, I’m happy to answer your questions and would love to know if you knew about amnesia.

Random Acts of Love May Save Your Country

In the United States of America, the news (print and electronic) says our country is in trouble. We’ve become so terribly, angrily divided by politics. Memes and click-bait stories scream inflammatory headlines. The computer and mobile phone cushion us from consequences. We say things out of anger and frustration or fear without thinking about the legacy those words leave behind. Random acts of love may be our only hope.

Those inflammatory headlines and the anger, frustration, and fear I’ve witnessed in the past few years inspired me to make this month’s theme Random Acts of Love. Read the first post, Random Acts of Love and then the second one, Inspirational Random Acts of Love.

I don’t know what your political persuasion is. And frankly, I don’t care. I care about you and about this country as both exist outside of politics. So when I read Dr. Karlyn Borysenko’s post on Medium, After Attending a Trump Rally, I Realized Democrats Aren’t Ready for 2020 , I knew I had to include it today. The lesson she learned is one I’ve been trying to practice and promote. Most people are good-hearted folk. They might disagree about politics or gender or religion but disagreeing with your position on those topics does not make them evil. Read the following selection of random acts and tell me what political beliefs these people have. Tell me what genders they support or what religion they follow.

So Simple A Child Can Do It

image of a row of shopping carts symbolic of the random act of love by this child

I was at Aldi (a supermarket in river head) and to get a shopping cart you have to put a quarter to reliece the cart. so when we were done shopping we loded the car and my dad told me to go put the cart back. and there was an old lady wit a cane going shopping. She needed a cart. so as she was about to put the quarter in I said ”here take my cart.” I gave it to her and she gave me a warm hug. I sprinted back to the car and buckeld up. —Kindness Stories.  

He Needed the Exercise

Leaving a store, I returned to my car only to find that I’d locked my keys and cell phone inside. A teenager riding his bike saw me kick a tire and say a few choice words.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I explained my situation. “But even if I could call my wife,” I said, “she can’t bring me her car key, since this is our only car.”

He handed me his cell phone. “Call your wife and tell her I’m coming to get her key.”

“That’s seven miles round trip.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

An hour later, he returned with the key. I offered him some money, but he refused.

“Let’s just say I needed the exercise,” he said.

Then, like a cowboy in the movies, he rode off into the sunset.—Clarence W. Stephens, Nicholasville, Kentucky

Remembered with a Rose

a rose being handed to someone is another random act of love and kindness in this story

Seth Stewart of Spokane, Washington has spent the last eight years remembering the local widows, single women, and military spouses on Valentine’s Day. He and his brothers deliver a single rose to every one of those spouses on Valentine’s Day. He keeps a record of all the people’s names he has delivered roses to and each year asks his community on Facebook to help him identify additional people who need a remembrance on the holiday.

Hope, Love, and Kindness

From the child who gave his grocery cart away, to the barbers who give homeless men haircuts, to a dry cleaners offering to clean the clothes of any unemployed person going to a job interview, to women crocheting plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless, good-hearted people fill every corner of the world. They do random acts of kindness without regard to political, racial, or religious leanings. These random acts of love give one hope for our country and the world.

I hope my posts about random acts of love have inspired you. We express kindness and love for one another in the words we choose, the interactions we have, and the actions we take. It’s only through kindness and love for another that we can bridge generational gaps, gender gaps, and even political gaps. What random act of love and kindness touched your life?

Do You Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020! It’s a day to celebrate romantic love or it passes in sorrow or passes as any other day or celebrating it is prohibited. Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Image of a large red heart Do you celebrate Valentine's Day?

I have had years when I celebrated. Years when I hated the day. And years when I ignore the day. Don’t get me wrong, I am a romantic. Don’t believe me? See my post Fools Risk Magic.

There are millions who are romantic enough to celebrate Valentine’s Day in one fashion or another. Millions like W. H. Auden…

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street.

W. H. Auden

Is that romantic or what?

Why Do We Celebrate?

Well, all you romantics know why you celebrate. But do you know what the historical roots of Valentine’s Day are? Guess what? There isn’t one answer.

Some believe we celebrate because of the Catholic saint, St. Valentine. But there were three St. Valentines. Read Who Was the Real St. Valentine? 

The day could have its origins in the pagan fertility celebration, Lupercalia.

We think the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer recorded the first Valentine’s Day poem in 1375, “Parliament of Foules.” Did he start Valentine’s Day?

The Procrastinators

Today is Valentine’s Day – or, as men like to call it, Extortion Day!

Jay Leno

Some of us delay preparing for or celebrating Valentines Day. For some reason, Valentine’s Day brings out the procrastinator in more than 70 million who purchase their cards within six days of the holiday? Are you one of those? You might need some last-minute ideas. See my post Valentine’s Day Procrastinator’s Delight.

Not Everyone Celebrates Valentines Day

I’d kiss a frog even if there was no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it. I love frogs. Cameron Diaz

Not everyone has found a romantic love. Some don’t care. Others care desperately. For them this is a difficult day. For them I wrote Your Valentine’s Day Survival Guide and the flash fiction, The Yellow Rose of Valentine’s Day.

Places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and India do not celebrate. In fact, in some of those countries there are severe punishments for those who do. Read more here.

Celebrate Your Way

What am I doing to celebrate? I’m taking my husband to the pulmonologist for a follow-up visit. Not as romantic as seeing his cardiologist… but that’s where we’ll be. Afterward, we’ll stop for some sweet treats. A nod to the day, but these days we express our love, celebrate our love every day.

Whether or not you celebrate, use this Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to remember to love yourself. No matter who you are, what your life circumstances are, you’ve been through a lot. You are here on this planet on this day. Celebrate you. Love yourself. Treat yourself with love and kindness. And have a very happy Valentine’s Day.