Memories of persons vary depending on the individual's state of mind and the content of the information. There are 2 basic types of memory - Implicit which refers to the unconscious level occurring in basal ganglia and the Explicit that refers to the conscious level (occurring in medial temporal structures). Episodic memory refers to the record of events (episodes) and the relationship with the person. Short term memory is synonymous with working memory. This is a specialized term referring to information about the current task. Commonly also referred to as amnesia, memory loss can be described as a degree of forgetfulness or failure to recall past events which is above the normal level. At times, memory loss is limited to an inability to recall events that are recent, but sometimes it could also be for events from the past or both.
Types of memory loss
Depending upon its cause, memory loss could be sudden or gradual, and permanent or temporary. A transient global amnesia is rare and is a complete but temporary memory loss. In anterograde amnesia on the other hand, the individual cannot recall recent events occurring after a trauma but can recall events of distant past. Retrograde amnesia is when the individual cannot recollect events preceding or leading up to the trauma. But he/she can recall all subsequent events. A transient global amnesia is rare and is a complete but temporary memory loss.
Causes for short term memory loss
Short term memory loss is a symptom of many possible causes including disease, dyslexia, depression, injury or chronic drug and alcohol abuse. Other possible causes for amnesia can be Alzheimer's disease, brain tumor, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, meningitis, Parkinson's disease, Pick disease, epilepsy, stroke and West Nile virus. A stroke is construed as one of the most serious reasons for a short term memory loss.
Research findings have established that the structural differences in cortical neurons depend on gonadal hormones in laboratory animals. Other studies on women show that their cognitive tasks changed throughout the menstrual cycle based on the fluctuating estrogen levels.
A head trauma can sometimes result in short term memory loss and this can happen even when concussion is not sustained. Psychiatric disorders such as dissociative fugue, dissociative identity disorder and other types of amnesia can cause short term memory loss. Severe psychological stress can push a person beyond his/her coping abilities can cause memory loss among other mental disturbances. Research reveals that stress hormones kill or inhibit the growth of brain cells adversely affecting memory. The more prolonged the depression, the more extensive the damage. Hormonal imbalance can play havoc and lead to short term memory loss. During menopause, memory loss symptoms are often seen in women.
Treating memory issues
Mental exercises, herbal supplements, certain drugs as well as a healthier lifestyle can all help in treating short term memory loss. If the memory loss is chronic and it interferes with everyday life then it is essential to consult the doctor to identify the cause and eliminate the serious condition.
Dissociative Fugue is one of the dissociative conditions wherein the person suffers one or more episodes of amnesia. Dissociative Fugue or Psychogenic Fugue as this condition was earlier known as, results in symptoms such as losing personal identity and or unscheduled travel. There can be recurring episodes. The fugue can last for a day or weeks or longer. But most episodes are brief and self-limiting. Sudden travel or movement away from usual surroundings brings on these episodes in those suffering this condition. It is often precipitated by emotional crisis. Episodes of fugue have also been linked to medication side effects, extreme violence or traumatic events such as disasters, accidents or war.
There is confusion about identities. The person appears normal but might assume a new identity and participate in complex social situations. Epilepsy and drug intoxication might lead to similar behavior patterns. Blood tests, EEG and neuro-imaging studies help in identifying the physical illness or medication side effects causing the dissociative fugue.
A psychiatrist or psychologist needs to diagnose and treat the condition. Hypnosis and drug-facilitated interviews help in exploring the situation and to understand triggers that can be avoided. Clinical hypnosis allows intense relaxation and focus to explore memories and feelings that are hidden from the conscious mind. Psychotherapy is effective for dissociative disorders as it targets dysfunctional thinking patterns and seeks to change them to bring about better behaviors. Cognitive therapy to correct dysfunctional thinking pattern may be another option - usually followed with anti depressant or anti psychotic medications.
Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome : Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is primarily caused by the deficiency of thiamine, (Vitamin B1) usually due to chronic alcohol abuse. But Korsakoff Syndrome can have other origins other than alcohol abuse - chronic vomiting that may inhibit the absorption of Thiamine.
Neurological complications of alcohol abuse may also result from nutritional deficiency exacerbated by the excessive intake of alcohol which depletes Vitamin B1 - thiamine essential for normal nervous system. Sudden changes in blood chemistry specifically sodium, may cause central pontine myelinolysis, a condition of the brainstem in which nerves lose their myelin coating. Other complication include Liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Such conditions - if left untreated can progress to the onset of Wernicke encephalopathy - whose symptoms include marked confusion, delirium, disorientation, memory loss and drowsiness. Physical Examination may reveal abnormalities of eye movement, jerking of the eyes (nystagmus) and double vision. Even walking may seem hard to do as the patient has problems with balance and muscular co-ordination. If thiamine is not administered soon Wernicke encephalopathy may progress to stupor, coma and death.
If Thiamine is administered in time, the patient may escape from death but Korsakoff’s syndrome may still leave him/her crippled from permanent memory impairment - some may not remember events for a period of a few years before the onset of illness (retrograde amnesia) and unable to learn new information (anterograde amnesia).
Repeated episodes of Encephalopathy and/or prolonged alcohol abuse may lead to Korsakoff psychosis a form of dementia.
Alcoholic myopathy or muscular weakness due to breakdown of muscle tissue, is called as alcoholic rhabdomyolysis or alcoholic myoglobinuria. Usually men are affected by alcoholic myopathy about 4 times as often as women. Breakdown of muscle tissue (myonecrosis), can occur at any time during binge drinking or in the first days of alcohol withdrawal. Although this itself may not result in any apparent symptom in the initial stages, it can still be detected by temporary elevation in blood levels of an enzyme the MM fraction of creatine kinase - found in muscles.
Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome also known as Cerebral Beriberi, usually occurs in chronic alcoholics and affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It can be caused by a situation that aggravates a chronic thiamine deficiency, like an alcoholic binge or severe vomiting.
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Diseases, Symptoms, Tests and Treatment arranged in alphabetical order:
Bibliography / Reference
Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: September 23, 2019