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Treating Amnesia

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000333846.54546.f8
Department: Resource Central

Could any treatment have helped Denise Reagor regain more of her memories? Reagor's form of amnesia is very rare, so there is no standard treatment. “You can't send someone over for ‘retrograde amnesia therapy' and they get better,” says neurologist John Hart, M.D., a professor and memory researcher at the University of Texas in Dallas.

It's possible the amnesia will resolve on its own as the brain heals itself. But there are methods for assessing the brain damage from an injury and techniques that can encourage healing.

The first steps would typically be an MRI to determine how an injured brain is working, and an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to record electrical activity and detect possible seizures. Let's say you're in a six-car pile-up and you get rear-ended at 55 mph. The force of the blow might cause your brain to rotate inside your skull, sheering the nerve fibers that connect the frontal and temporal lobes, where you make memories.

Cognitive rehabilitation, in which people learn to develop the memory skills they have and perhaps regain some skills they lost, can help in such cases, says Russell Packard, M.D., a neurologist in Palestine, TX. The key is to find which therapies help the brain retrieve memories or create new paths for retrieval.

Another option is neuropsychological testing. These tests check brain function in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. They also assess a patient's emotional state. What looks like amnesia in some cases might actually be severe depression.

Some neurologists recommend medications typically prescribed for Alzheimer's disease to help a patient retrieve memories and ward off memory deficits immediately after a head injury. However, Dr. Hart emphasizes, these medications are prescribed off-label—meaning the FDA hasn't approved the drugs for this use.

Remember, no one has to go through this unusual experience alone. The Brain Injury Association of America (; 703-761-0750) provides information on brain injury support groups, current research, and public policy efforts.

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