Post-traumatic Amnesia (PTA)


Maj Hemstad
Post-traumatic amnesia, or PTA, is memory loss related to a trauma. A person who experiences a moderate TBI may have PTA from one to seven days following the traumatic event. A person with a severe TBI is likely to have PTA for more than seven days. Dr. Green, can you tell us more about PTA and what it means for TBI patients?

Dr. Green
Sure thing, Dr. Hemstad. Patients with a moderate to severe TBI will experience a period of PTA, which can be difficult for both the patient and their loved ones. PTA includes memory loss of the present time, meaning the patient has no continuous memory of day-to-day events. They may be unable to remember what happened within the past few hours or even the past few minutes.

A person with PTA may recognize family and friends, but they may have difficulty understanding where they are or that they’ve had an injury of some kind. In other cases of PTA, patients are unable to recognize familiar people at all.

PTA can also cause other symptoms or changes in behavior, including:

  • Confusion, agitation, distress, and anxiety
  • Uncharacteristic aggression, violence, swearing, or shouting,
  • Inappropriate behaviors, and
  • A tendency to wander

In some cases, people may be unusually quiet and docile, or overly affectionate and friendly in a child-like manner.

Although the period of PTA may be disturbing or uncomfortable for family and friends, it’s important to remember that it is temporary. It’s impossible to know exactly how long PTA will last – it could be hours, days, or weeks – but it’s a phase of recovery that will eventually pass.

Family and friends should try to stay as calm as possible. Seeing other people’s distress and being unable to understand why may make the patient more confused and agitated. It may also be necessary to have someone familiar sit with the patient at all times, especially if they tend to wander or try to get out of bed when they aren’t supposed to.

A patient may ask the same things over and over again, or they may have delusions, and it’s best not to correct them or try to force them to remember. Gradually, they will recover their ability to retain information and begin to make sense of the world around them.