amnesia

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amnesia

amnesia (ămnēˈzhə), [Gr.,=forgetfulness], condition characterized by loss of memory for long or short intervals of time. It may be caused by injury, shock, senility, severe illness, or mental disease. Some cases of amnesia involve the unconscious suppression of a painful experience and everything remindful of it including the individual's identity (see defense mechanism). Retrograde amnesia is loss of memory of events just preceding temporary loss of consciousness, as from head injury; it is evidence that memory proceeds in two stages, short term and long term. One form of the condition known as tropic amnesia, or coast memory, affecting white men in the tropics, is probably a variety of hysteria. Aphasia of the amnesic variety is caused by an organic brain condition and is not to be confused with other forms of amnesia. To cure amnesia, attempts are made to establish associations with the past by suggestion, and hypnotism is sometimes employed.
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Amnesia

A significant but relatively selective inability to remember. Amnesia can be characterized along two dimensions with respect to its onset: an inability to remember events that occurred after the onset of amnesia is referred to as anterograde amnesia, and a deficit in remembering events that occurred prior to the onset of amnesia is referred to as retrograde amnesia. Amnesia can be due to a variety of causes and can be classified according to whether the cause is primarily neurological or psychological in origin. Neurological amnesias are the result of brain dysfunction and can be transient or permanent. They are usually characterized by a severe anterograde amnesia and a relatively less severe retrograde amnesia. Transient amnesias are temporary memory disturbances and can range in duration from hours to months, depending on the cause and severity. They can be caused by epilepsy, head injury, and electroconvulsive therapy (most frequently used for the treatment of depression). In cases of transient global amnesia, an extensive amnesia that is usually sudden in onset and resolves within a day, the cause is still not known, although many believe that it is vascular in origin.

Permanent amnesia usually occurs following brain damage to either the diencephalons or the medial temporal lobe. Amnesia resulting from impairment to the medial temporal lobe can occur following anoxia, cerebrovascular accidents, head injury, and viral infections to the brain. The primary structures involved in the processing of memory within the medial temporal lobe are the hippocampus and the amygdala. One of the most common causes of diencephalic amnesia is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency, usually related to chronic alcoholism.

Memory impairment that is not associated with brain damage is referred to as functional amnesia. Functional amnesia can be classified according to whether the amnesia is nonpathological or pathological. Nonpathological functional amnesia is a normal memory loss for events occurring during infancy and early childhood, sleep, hypnosis, and anesthesia. Pathological functional amnesia is an abnormal memory loss found in cases of functional retrograde amnesia and multiple personality. In contrast to neurological amnesia, pathological functional amnesia is usually associated with more severe retrograde than anterograde amnesia. See Brain, Memory

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

amnesia

[am′nēzh·ə]
(medicine)
The pathological loss or impairment of memory brought about by psychogenic or physiological disturbances.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

amnesia

a defect in memory, esp one resulting from pathological cause, such as brain damage or hysteria
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005