Differences between amnesia and dementia

Amnesia is a clinical manifestation that involves loss or impairment of memory and can occur due to several causes, such as trauma, neurological disease, or mental disorder. This condition can be part of another condition known as dementia, a clinical picture that includes cognitive, motor and functional impairments that go beyond just memory loss. And although they do share some features, there are several differences between amnesia and dementia.

Throughout the article, we tell you what both amnesia and dementia are, and we discuss the main differences between the two.

    What is amnesia?

    Amnesia is a condition in which a person’s memory is lost or impaired. This condition can have organic or neurological causes (due to brain damage, physical injuries, neurological diseases or the use of certain substances) or functional or psychogenic causes (psychological factors, mental disorders, post-traumatic stress or psychological defense mechanisms).

    There are two main types of amnesia: anterograde amnesia (where the ability to memorize new things is affected or lost because data is not transferred properly from conscious short-term memory to permanent long-term memory) ; and retrograde amnesia (where a person’s preexisting memories are lost in conscious memory, beyond an ordinary degree of forgetting, although they may memorize new things that occur after the onset of the ‘amnesia).

    Anterograde amnesia is the more common of the two. Sometimes these two types of amnesia are possible together and are called total or global amnesia. Another type of amnesia is posttraumatic, a state of confusion and memory loss that occurs after traumatic brain injury. Amnesia due to psychological factors is generally known as psychogenic amnesia.

    Many types of amnesia are associated with damage to the hippocampus and other related areas of the brain. which are used in memory encoding, storage and retrieval. If there is a blockage in the pathways along which information travels during coding or memory retrieval processes, or if entire regions of the brain are missing or damaged, the brain may be unable to form new memories. or recover old ones.

    Dementia: what is this disorder?

    Dementia is the term used to define a class of disorders characterized by the progressive deterioration of thinking ability and memory like the brain is damaged. Usually, when memory loss is so severe that it interferes with normal daily functioning, the condition is called dementia. Less severe memory loss is known as mild cognitive impairment.

    Dementia is characterized by severe loss of memory and cognitive abilities (mainly in the areas of attention, language and problem solving), as well as one or more of the following disorders: aphasia (loss of ability producing or understanding language), apraxia (inability to perform learned movements), agnosia (difficulty recognizing and identifying objects or people without interfering with the senses) or executive dysfunction (inability to plan, organize or reason).

    The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, Which accounts for 50 to 75% of all dementias. The second most common type, accounting for up to 20% of cases of dementia, is vascular dementia, which has symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease, but usually results from brain damage caused by a blood clot or stroke. bleeding that cuts off the blood supply to the brain due to trauma.

    Dementia can be caused by specific events such as traumatic brain injury or stroke, or it can develop gradually as a result of a neurodegenerative disease that affects brain neurons or as a secondary symptom of others. disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Some medicines used to treat other age-related illnesses and conditions can also adversely affect memory and speed up the onset of dementia.

      Differences between amnesia and dementia

      To address the differences between amnesia and dementia, we need to look at what defines each of these clinical pictures. Amnesia is a symptom that can occur in many situations and for different causesAnd this is something that differentiates a condition like dementia, because the latter is defined as a collection of disorders that can lead to other more serious diseases or conditions, and not just as a symptom or clinical manifestation.

      Another clear difference between amnesia and dementia is the variety of cognitive symptoms which presents in both conditions. In amnesia, memory is usually the only impaired cognitive function, while in dementia, as we have seen above, impairments in language, attention or the ability to solve problems may occur. apart from memory problems that the demented patient may present. .

      People with dementia see their ability to perform the tasks of daily living impaired.This usually does not happen as clearly in subjects with amnesic images. In addition, dementia usually gets worse over time and cognitive abilities are gradually reduced; however, the vast majority of amnesias are reversible, with the exception of those which present precisely as a clinical sign of ongoing dementia.

      Ultimately, amnesia is more of a symptom that can present with dementia, but it does not have to be the result and usually only includes memory loss in its various forms; and, in turn, dementia is a much more comprehensive alteration in brain function and involves alteration of multiple cognitive areas that go beyond mnemonic capacities and include alterations at the motor and functional level.

      Bibliographical references:

      • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
      • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

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