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What is amnesia?

Amnesia is an often-misunderstood condition that involves different types of memory loss. Effects can be mild or severe and for some people, the ability to retain important facts and information can be impacted for life. Healthline offers the following information on amnesia, including why it occurs and how it can be treated.

Types of amnesia

Different types of amnesia cause different symptoms. Anterograde amnesia impacts the formation of new memories and can be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances and the damage sustained. Conversely, retrograde amnesia causes you to lose memories you already have, starting with the most recently made memories. Transient global amnesia is similar to attacks that cause confusion and problems recalling information. These attacks usually last a few hours and often recur. 


Head injuries are a common cause of amnesia. For instance, sustaining damage to the hippocampus can result in trouble forming new memories as well as difficulty recalling old ones. Memory loss can also occur because of a lack of oxygen to the brain, also known as anoxia. Other causes include long-term trauma and stress, alcohol use, and dementia, which typically affects people as they age.


If amnesia is a result of a head injury, your doctor will assess the severity of the damage when developing a treatment plan. If the injury is mild the effects usually resolve on their own. With more serious injuries memory problems may persist, which can call for occupational therapy to relearn important skills. Unfortunately, amnesia caused by dementia is usually incurable.


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