Post-Traumatic Amnesia: What Hayden Hurst's Story Tells Us

Post-traumatic amnesia is a mysterious and concerning condition that causes a host of memory and cognitive challenges.

Carolina Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst was diagnosed with post-traumatic amnesia after he suffered a concussion during a November 9 game in Chicago. Hurst's father announced his son's diagnosis in an X post on December 6, saying an independent neurologist identified the condition.

In an X post on December 7, Hurst told fans that he couldn't remember anything up to four hours after he experienced the concussion, calling it a "scary situation." However, he assured his followers that it would not be career-ending.

"I'm doing better each day," Hurst told ESPN in a text message interview. "It's not going to end my career, just being cautious as I come back. Should be another week or two."

The 30-year-old football player's experience has shined light on a mysterious memory-impairing condition that can happen after traumatic brain injury. But what is post-traumatic amnesia? And what's the outlook for people who experience it?

What to know about post-traumatic amnesia

Post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) is a condition that can happen after a person experiences a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion. Usually, it occurs after a person begins to wake up after they've lost consciousness, but it can also happen when a person remains conscious. It can last from several hours to months, depending on the severity of the brain injury.

There are two types of PTA. If a person has the first type, retrograde PTA, they may experience a partial or total loss of the ability to recall events before the brain injury. Individuals with the second type, called anterograde amnesia, have difficulties forming new memories after the TBI.

TBI-induced neural lesions and white matter damage within the parahippocampal region of the brain are thought to be the primary cause of PTA. However, damage to other brain regions responsible for memory can play a role in the condition.

What are the symptoms of post-traumatic amnesia?

Although the severity of the condition varies, people with PTA are often unable to log new memories or recall day-to-day events. They might also become disoriented, believe people trying to help them are threats and have significant confusion or reduced cognitive abilities.

Around 70% of people with PTA experience agitation, which can lead to combative behaviors. These actions may make it difficult for healthcare staff to care for the individual. Modifying the person's environment or redirecting their behaviors can help.

However, sometimes, healthcare providers use medications like beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, or antipsychotics to help manage behaviors associated with PTA.

Post-traumatic amnesia outcomes

Generally, the prognosis for someone diagnosed with PTA is good, especially if they only experienced it for less than an hour. However, those who have the condition for more than 24 hours may experience long-term complications, as a longer duration of symptoms may indicate more severe brain damage. Moreover, 2016 research found that individuals with PTA for longer than one week showed moderate disability at the study's six-month assessment.

Does playing sports increase the risks?

An estimated 300,000 high school athletes in the United States experience a concussion each year, and that rate appears to be increasing. Moreover, boys' football and girls' soccer and volleyball are sports most associated with concussions.

According to the National Institutes of Health(NIH), after a sports-related concussion, post-traumatic amnesia is estimated to occur in 25% to 30% of cases.

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