Amnesia risk factors

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Aditya Govindavarjhulla, M.B.B.S. [2]; Jesus Rosario Hernandez, M.D. [3]


Aging, depression and medications (both prescription and non-prescription) are risk factors for amnesia.

Risk Factors

  • Interpersonal violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Single or traumatic experiences (e.g. war, childhood maltreatment, natural disaster, internment in concentration camps, genocide)[1]

Normal aging may lead to trouble learning new material or require a longer time to remember new material. However, it does not lead to dramatic memory loss unless diseases are involved. Memory loss can be seen in people with impaired concentration, seen in illnesses such as depression. It can be hard to tell the difference.

Dissociative or Functional or Psychogenic Amnesia

Patients exposed to physically or emotionally traumatic events are at a higher risk for developing psychogenic amnesia because they seem to have damaged the neurons into the in the brain.[2][3] Examples of individuals at greater risk of psychogenic amnesia due to traumatic events include soldiers who have experienced combat, individuals sexually and physically abused during childhood and individuals who have experienced domestic violence, natural disasters, or terrorist acts; essentially any sufficiently severe psychological stress, internal conflict, or intolerable life situation.[4] Child abuse, especially chronic child abuse starting at an early age has been related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms, including amnesia for abuse memories. The study strongly suggested that "independent corroboration of recovered memories of abuse is often present" and that the recovery of the abuse memories generally is not associated with psychotherapy.[5]

Dissociative Fugue

It has been estimated that approximately 0.2 percent of the population experiences dissociative fugue, although prevalence increases significantly following a stressful life event, such as wartime experience or some other disaster.[6] Other life stressors may trigger a dissociative fugue, such as financial difficulties, personal problems or legal issues.

Transient Global Amnesia

It is thought that the underlying cause of TGA may be due to venous congestion of the brain,[7] leading to ischemia of structures involved with memory, such as the hippocampus.[8] This may be triggered by performing a valsalva maneuver in the context of various precipitating events such as immersion in cold water, sexual activity, severe emotional stress and vigorous exertion.[9] [10]


  1. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association. 2013. ISBN 0890425558.
  2. Brandt J, Van Gorp WG (2006). "Functional ("psychogenic") amnesia". Semin Neurol. 26 (3): 331–40. doi:10.1055/s-2006-945519. PMID 16791779.
  3. Markowitsch HJ (2003). "Psychogenic amnesia". Neuroimage. 20 Suppl 1: S132–8. PMID 14597306.
  4. Yang JC, Jeong GW, Lee MS; et al. (2005). "Functional MR imaging of psychogenic amnesia: a case report". Korean J Radiol. 6 (3): 196–9. PMID 16145296.
  5. Chu JA, Frey LM, Ganzel BL, Matthews JA (1999). "Memories of childhood abuse: dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration". Am J Psychiatry. 156 (5): 749–55. PMID 10327909.
  6. Merck Manual 1999 section 15 (Psychiatric Disorders), chapter 188 (Dissociative Disorders)
  7. Lewis SL. Aetiology of transient global amnesia. Lancet.1998;352:397-399..
  8. Chung CP, Hsu H , Chao A , et al. Detection of intracranial venous reflux in patients of transient global amnesia. Neurology 2006;66:1873–7.
  9. "UCLA Department of Medicine - wfsection-Transient Global Amnesia". Retrieved 2007-07-25.
  10. Moreno-Lugris XC, Martinez-Alvarez J , Branas F , et al. Transient global amnesia. Case–control study of 24 cases. Rev Neurol 1996;24:554–7.