Currently, little is available in the way of treatment options for amnesia; no drugs exist for most types of amnesia, and the focus is trying to help compensate for the memory deficit. If a particular cause of the memory loss can be identified, such as an infection, tumor, or side effect of a medication, addressing these conditions may also relieve the amnesia. Because Korsakoff’s syndrome is caused by thiamine deficiency, thiamine supplementation, proper diet, and avoidance of alcohol can help prevent further memory loss and lead to recovery of some lost memory in people with this condition (Mayo Clinic 2011a).
Psychotherapy has also been useful in the treatment of amnesia, especially for people whose amnesia has been caused by emotional or psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychotherapy, sometimes with the aid of sedating medications, can help people suffering from functional or psychogenic amnesia (amnesia with a psychological cause) regain access to the lost memories (Brandt 2006). When successful, psychotherapy can also reduce the additional emotional strain and anxiety caused by memory loss (Brand 2010). People with other forms of amnesia may also benefit from psychiatric treatment and support groups to help cope with their disorder and develop tools to minimize the impact of the memory loss on their quality of life.
One cause of memory loss that can be treated using conventional medicine is Alzheimer’s disease. There are two classes of medications that can be used to treat amnesia and other cognitive problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease. The first class, cholinesterase inhibitors, increase the amount of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is decreased in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Donepezil (Aricept®) is approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and in some patients it temporarily delayed the progression of mild cognitive impairment. Rivastigmine (Exelon®) and galantamine (Razadyne®) are approved to treat mild to moderate disease. The other class of drugs that may help amnesia in Alzheimer’s disease modulates signaling by another important neurotransmitter in the brain called glutamate, which is important for learning and memory. This class of drugs is known as NMDA receptor antagonists, and the only approved medication in this class, memantime (Namenda®), is used for moderate and severe cases of the Alzheimer’s. However, these medications have significant side effects. Cholinesterase inhibitors may cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Memantine, on the other hand, may cause headache, confusion, agitation, and dizziness (Mayo Clinic 2011b).