Amnestic Disorder​

Amnestic disorders are a group of disorders that involve loss of memories, loss of the ability to create new memories, or loss of the ability to learn new information. These disorders are characterized by problems with memory function. There are a variety of symptoms associated with amnestic disorders, as well as differences in the severity of symptoms. 

Some people experience difficulty recalling events that happened or facts that they learned before the onset of the amnestic disorder. This type of amnesia is called retrograde amnesia. Other people experience the inability to learn new facts or retain new memories, which is called anterograde amnesia. 

People with amnestic disorders do not usually forget all of their personal history and their identity, although memory loss of this degree of severity does sometimes occur in rare instances of dissociative disorders.

Amnestic disorders are caused by structural or chemical damage to parts of the brain. Problems remembering previously learned information vary widely according to the location and severity of brain damage. The ability to learn and remember new information, however, is always affected in an amnestic disorder.

The two main types of amnestic disorders centre on whether or not the cause of the memory problems is known.

  • Organic Amnesic Syndrome: this is diagnosed when there is a known physical cause of the memory problems.

  • Unspecified Amnestic Disorder: this is diagnosed when the exact cause of the memory loss is not fully known.

Amnestic disorder can occur due to a general medical condition or due to head trauma, tumours, stroke, or cerebrovascular disease (that is, disease affecting the blood vessels in the brain). Another type of amnestic disorder known as substance-induced amnestic disorder can be caused by alcoholism, long-term heavy drug use, or exposure to such toxins as lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, and certain insecticides.​​

The exact symptoms of amnestic disorder vary depending on its particular cause. However, in general they revolve around memory impairment. For some, it may show as a problem learning new information or remembering things that just happened. Others may have their memory affected slightly differently and may be unable to remember things from the past. The important thing to remember is that there will be an absence of other cognitive thinking problems with amnestic disorders. If the symptoms of these disorders are noticed, getting treatment can help you avoid the dangers of amnestic disorders. 

In general, the symptoms associated with amnestic disorders include:

  • Loss of memory

  • Disorientation with time and space

  • Lack of insight to their loss of memory

  • Difficulty learning or recalling information

  • Being aware of your memory loss but unable to understand why​​

If you or a loved one is facing out of the ordinary memory loss issues, seek help from your doctor working with the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital. You can safely and privately discuss your symptoms, gain advice and receive personalized treatment and care.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor working with the Mind and Brain Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital will diagnose amnesia based on a comprehensive evaluation to rule out other possible causes of memory loss, such as Alzheimer's disease​, dementia, depression or brain tumour.

Your evaluation will start with a detailed medical history. Since you may not be able to provide thorough information because of memory loss, a family member, friend or another caregiver will generally take part in the interview as well. Your doctor will ask many questions to understand the memory loss including:

  • Type of memory loss — recent or long term

  • When the memory problems started and how they progressed

  • Triggering factors, such as head injury, stroke or surgery

  • Family history, especially of neurological disease

  • Drug and alcohol use

  • Other signs and symptoms, such as confusion, language problems, personality changes or impaired ability to care for self

  • History of seizures, headaches, depression or cancer

Your doctor may also conduct a physical examination including a neurological exam to check reflexes, sensory function, balance, and other physiological aspects of the brain and nervous system. Your thinking, judgment, and recent and long-term memory will be assessed, along with general information, personal information and past events.

Imaging tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scan will also help to look for damage or abnormalities in the brain. Additionally, blood tests can be used to examine infections, nutritional deficiencies or other issues.​

There are no specific treatments that have been proven to be effective in curing amnestic disorders, but it is possible to recover slowly over time, including gaining back some of the memories that were formed before the onset of the disorder. If your doctor suspects that amnestic disorder may be due to alcohol abuse, he/she will recommend treatment with thiamin (or vitamin B1) to stop the disorder from progressing.

In some cases, the disorder may be severe enough that you may need personal care. In such an instance, your doctor may recommend palliative care, accessible from the Home Health Care Services​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Avoiding exposure to environmental toxins, substance abuse and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help to prevent further symptoms of amnestic disorders.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider. ​