AskDefine | Define amnesic

Dictionary Definition

amnesic adj
1 of or relating to or caused by amnesia [syn: amnestic]
2 suffering from a partial loss of memory [syn: amnesiac] n : a person suffering from amnesia [syn: amnesiac]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of, pertaining to, or suffering from amnesia


  1. A person suffering from amnesia

Extensive Definition

Amnesia (from Greek ) is a condition in which memory is disturbed. The causes of amnesia are organic or functional. In simple terms it is the loss of memory. Organic causes include damage to the brain, through trauma or disease, or use of certain (generally sedative) drugs. Functional causes are psychological factors, such as defense mechanisms. Hysterical post-traumatic amnesia is an example of this. Amnesia may also be spontaneous, in the case of transient global amnesia. This global type of amnesia is more common in middle-aged to elderly people, particularly males, and usually lasts less than 24 hours.
Another effect of amnesia is the inability to imagine the future. A recent study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that amnesiacs with damaged hippocampus cannot imagine the future.Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences, ''Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences. This is because when a normal human being imagines the future, they use their past experiences to construct a possible scenario. For example, a person who would try to imagine what would happen at a party that would occur in the near future would use their past experience at parties to help construct the event in the future.

Forms of amnesia

  • In anterograde amnesia, new events contained in the immediate memory are not transferred to the permanent as long-term memory. The sufferer will not be able to remember anything that occurs after the onset of this type of amnesia for more than a brief period following the event.
  • Retrograde amnesia is the inability to recall some memory or memories of the past, beyond ordinary forgetfulness.
The terms are used to categorize patterns of symptoms, rather than to indicate a particular cause or etiology. Both categories of amnesia can occur together in the same patient, and commonly result from drug effects or damage to the brain regions most closely associated with episodic/declarative memory: the medial temporal lobes and especially the hippocampus.
An example of mixed retrograde and anterograde amnesia may be a motorcyclist unable to recall driving his motorbike prior to his head injury (retrograde amnesia), nor can he recall the hospital ward where he is told he had conversations with family over the next two days (anterograde amnesia).

Types/causes of amnesia

Post-traumatic amnesia is generally due to a head injury (e.g. a fall, a knock on the head). Traumatic amnesia is often transient, but may be permanent of either anterograde, retrograde, or mixed type. The extent of the period covered by the amnesia is related to the degree of injury and may give an indication of the prognosis for recovery of other functions. Mild trauma, such as a car accident that results in no more than mild whiplash, might cause the occupant of a car to have no memory of the moments just before the accident due to a brief interruption in the short/long-term memory transfer mechanism. The sufferer may also lose knowledge of who people are, they may remember events, but will not remember faces of them.
  • Dissociative Amnesia results from a psychological cause as opposed to direct damage to the brain caused by head injury, physical trauma or disease, which is known as organic amnesia. Dissociative Amnesia can include:
  • Repressed memory is the controversial theory referring to the supposed inability to recall information, usually about stressful or traumatic events in persons' lives, such as a violent attack or rape. The memory is stored in long term memory, but access to it is impaired because of psychological defense mechanisms. Persons retain the capacity to learn new information and there may be some later partial or complete recovery of memory. This contrasts with e.g. anterograde amnesia caused by amnestics such as benzodiazepines or alcohol, where an experience was prevented from being transferred from temporary to permanent memory storage: it will never be recovered, because it was never stored in the first place. Formerly known as "Psychogenic Amnesia"
  • Dissociative Fugue (formerly Psychogenic Fugue) is also known as fugue state. It is caused by psychological trauma and is usually temporary, unresolved and therefore may return. The Merck Manual defines it as "one or more episodes of amnesia in which the inability to recall some or all of one's past and either the loss of one's identity or the formation of a new identity occur with sudden, unexpected, purposeful travel away from home." The Merck Manuals Online While popular in fiction, it is extremely rare.
  • Posthypnotic amnesia is where events during hypnosis are forgotten, or where past memories are unable to be recalled.
  • Childhood amnesia (also known as infantile amnesia) is the common inability to remember events from one's own childhood. Whilst Sigmund Freud attributed this to sexual repression, others have theorised that this may be due to language development or immature parts of the brain.
  • Transient global amnesia is a well-described medical and clinical phenomenon. This form of amnesia is distinct in that abnormalities in the hippocampus can sometimes be visualized using a special form of magnetic resonance imaging of the brain known as diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI). Symptoms typically last for less than a day and there is often no clear precipitating factor nor any other neurological deficits. The cause of this syndrome is not clear, hypotheses include transient reduced blood flow, possible seizure or an atypical type of migraine. Patients are typically amnestic of events more than a few minutes in the past, though immediate recall is usually preserved.
  • Source amnesia is a memory disorder in which someone can recall certain information, but they do not know where or how they obtained the information.
  • Blackout phenomenon can be caused by excessive short-term alcohol consumption, with the amnesia being of the anterograde type.
  • Korsakoff's syndrome can result from long-term alcoholism or malnutrition. It is caused by brain damage due to a Vitamin B1 deficiency and will be progressive if alcohol intake and nutrition pattern are not modified. Other neurological problems are likely to be present in combination with this type of Amnesia. Korsakoff's syndrome is also known to be connected with confabulation.
  • Drug-induced amnesia is intentionally caused by injection of an amnesiac drug to help a patient forget surgery or medical procedures, particularly those which are not performed under full anesthesia. Such drugs are also referred to as "premedicants." Memories of the short time frame in which the procedure was performed are permanently lost; otherwise, memory is not affected.

Amnesia in fiction

Amnesia is prevalent in many works of fiction. Global amnesia is a common motif in fiction despite being extraordinarily rare in reality.
  • In Season 4 of Smallville, Clark Kent has his memory wiped by a Summerholt patient.
  • In Destination Moon, a part of Adventures of Tintin, Professor Calculus, for a brief period of time suffers from total amnesia, putting the project in trouble since only he knows how to make moon-rocket.
  • In Century Fox's animated film, Anastasia (1997), Anya suffers from amnesia as a result of having her head hit when trying to climb on train to escape to Paris with her grandmother as a young girl, and cannot recall the first eight years of her life.
  • The American sitcom Samantha Who? (2007- ) begins with the main character having suffered retrograde amnesia as the result of an auto accident and the show revolves around events that made her remember her life before the accident.
  • Dissociative Amnesia plays a critical role in the novel Mysterious Skin and movie of the same name.
  • Author Gene Wolfe addresses amnesia in the series Soldier of the Mist, where the main character Latro is injured during battle, causing relatively long term (24 hour) anterograde amnesia.
  • In Japanese anime, amnesia is a common theme:
    • The Big O is largely based on the premise of an entire city having lost their memory forty years prior.
    • In both Noir and Madlax , the main characters Kirika Yuumura, Madlax and Margaret Burton lose their memory because the memories they had were too traumatic for them.
    • In Sukisyo, the main characters experienced amnesia because their pasts involve betraying someone dear to them.
    • In Loveless, the main character has no memories of the first ten or so years of his life and never regains them.
    • In Utawarerumono the main character has no memory before the series begins. He does not exactly get them back, save for in short bursts, showing several past homicides. These endeavors, with time, become accepted.
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Trowa Barton, pilot of XXXG-01H Gundam Heavyarms suffers from amnesia for a brief period after he destroys his gundam during a fight against a deranged Quatre Winner who was piloting and under the influence of XXXG-00W0 Wing Gundam Zero at the time.
    • In Spirited Away, the character Haku forgot everything about his life as a river spirit, along with his name, which restricted his freedom.
  • In the Japanese Drama, Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers), the main character, Domyouji, has amnesia in the second season.
  • In the RPG Knights of the Old Republic global amnesia fits prominently into a midgame plot twist.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Bowser gets amnesia.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Shadow the Hedgehog suffered for a time from amnesia after being found alive in a stasis, having no memory of his past.
  • In the film Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford's character Henry Turner suffers from severe retrograde amnesia, and must relearn everything about his life, including basic motor functions.
  • In the computer game NetHack, if the player's character reads a scroll of amnesia, the character forgets the layout of the current dungeon level, as well as possibly the layouts of other dungeon levels and even object identifications that have been made.
  • In the Nintendo DS game The World Ends With You, the character Neku forgets all information about himself besides his name. After completing the first week of the game, Neku will regain his memory, but will still be missing the memory of how he died.
In movies and television, particularly sitcoms and soap operas, it is often depicted that a second hit to the head (similar to the first one) cures the amnesia. In reality, however, repeat concussions may cause cumulative deficits including cognitive problems, and in extremely rare cases may even cause deadly swelling of the brain associated with second-impact syndrome.


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amnesic in Ukrainian: Амнезія
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