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A Study on Amnesia
Surprise, surprise. Hollywood is wrong 98% of the time when it comes to Amnesia. Here is a post explaining what this syndrome is. What for? Well, in case you ever need to write, or show off your immense irrelevant knowledge on obscure subjects.
What is Amnesia? It is a shortfall (deficit) of memory. But it’s not as simple as just that. Memory is a complicated structure, it can be affected in many different ways, and can be expressed differently as well.
At it’s core, Amnesia is the partial or total loss of memory.
There are main types of amnesia, which I will discuss: Retrograde Amnesia, Anterograde Amnesia, Post-traumatic Amnesia, Dissociative amnesia, Lacunar amnesia, Childhood amnesia, Transient global amnesia, Source amnesia, Korsakoff’s syndrome, Drug-induced amnesia, Prosopamnesia, Situation-specific amnesia, and Transient epileptic amnesia.
So many different types! The crucial thing to understand from this list is that there are many variants of a simple “I can’t remember anything.” To be factual, remember to look up the specific source and determine what kind of amnesia your character has.
Main causes of amnesia
There are a lot of different symptoms of the different types of amnesia. To cut it down and make it easier for everyone, I’m going to talk about the main causes. If you want further research, please check out the links at the bottom of this guide. If you would like me to do a guide on one specific amnesia syndrome, please send an ask.
Physical injury: This does not mean that getting hit on the head will automatically makes a person forget everything. In fact, head trauma mainly causes retrograde or anterograde amnesia. In most cases, it only occurs for a few minutes to few hours. Electroconvulsive therapy has been shown to cause both retrograde and anterograde. Brain lesions will also cause amnesia.
Physical deficiencies: Wikipedia states that this category is more passive physical issues. I don’t like that it states as such, for there’s nothing definite about it. I would say though that it causes the areas of the brain into atrophy (partial or complete degradation of the area). Alcoholism is a good example, so is viral infection, oxygen deprivation, and poison. Oxygen deprivation in the brain could lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Psychological trauma: This is caused by extreme stress, which causes a build up of cortisol. I won’t go into the details, but this is obviously subjective. It’s also mostly selective, which is when someone cannot recall anything about the traumatic event, but can remember everything else.
The Big Two
I’m going to tackle the big two of amnesia here. That much is obvious.
Retrograde Amnesia: Cannot recall long term memory before the start of amnesia. Can remember more general knowledge than the specifics. Might get easier to recall over a long time. Mostly caused by: head trauma, cerebrovascular accident, stroke, tumor, hypoxia, encephalitis, or chronic alcoholism. Is curable.
Anterograde Amnesia: Cannot create new memories. Can remember memories before the start of amnesia. Mostly caused by: chronic alcoholism, severe malnutrition, stroke, head trauma, surgery, lack of oxygen. Is not curable.
How to write a character with Amnesia?
Like I have stated before, determine what type of Amnesia. Do further research on that specific type. Look for recovery case studies for that type, this will give you an idea of how people deal with this syndrome. Also find out what causes that specific type of amnesia. Was it long term coming, or was it sudden? Look up how long the recovery period is. Now, think about how your character would feel under this circumstance. In some cases, people with amnesia actually appears to be quite calm and collected. This might be due to other brain functions at work. Treatment! What sort of treatment would your character try to pursue? Support from friends and family is also very important. How do strangers react? These are just some questions and ideas to explore.
Clive Wearing: Living Without Memory [Youtube Video]