Mnemophobia is the irrational and excessive fear of memories. People suffering mnemophobia may fear having memories in general, or they may specifically fear certain bad memories. Others with mnemophobia may fear losing their memories, and this type of phobia is believed to be common in Alzheimer's disease patients and those at high risk for Alzheimer's disease. Like other phobias, mnemophobia may occur suddenly, following a single traumatic event, or it may develop more slowly over time. Mnemophobia can cause severe anxiety symptoms when patients are confronted with memories or the thought of losing memories.
Phobias in general occur when a person develops an irrational, intense fear of something. Usually, the object of fear is something most people wouldn't consider dangerous, such as dogs, bridges, or open spaces. Many phobias, such as arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, are quite common. Most phobias don't really require treatment, as long as the person can successfully avoid the object of fear without suffering from decreased quality of life.
Most phobias are believed to develop following a single psychological trauma in the person's life. For instance, a person bitten badly by a dog may later develop a phobia of dogs and become intensely frightened in the presence of dogs, even friendly ones. Mnemophobia can occur following a single psychological trauma, and is usually linked to a patient's anxiety about confronting bad or painful memories.
In some cases, however, mnemophobia may develop due to stress. Some patients have reported developing a fear of having memories during particularly stressful life periods. In many cases, mnemophobia doesn't come on suddenly, as it would after a particularly damaging psychological trauma. Sometimes, mnemophobia develops slowly, as the psyche finds more and more reasons to associate negative consequences with the act of having memories. In cases where mnemophobia comes on slowly, psychologists often can't pinpoint a singular reason for the disorder.
Alzheimer's patients are considered especially vulnerable to mnemophobia. The stress of being diagnosed with, and learning to manage, this condition may contribute to the development of this type of phobia in Alzheimer's patients. The very nature of Alzheimer's itself can also be a strong contributing factor. Alzheimer's patients may be particularly vulnerable to developing a fear of losing memories, since extreme memory loss often occurs as a result of advanced Alzheimer's disease.
When persons suffering from mnemophobia are confronted with their memories, or asked to face the prospect of losing their memories, intense anxiety and even feelings of panic can occur. Physical symptoms of this anxiety often include rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, increased perspiration, dry mouth, nausea, shaking, and shortness of breath. Psychologists generally treat this and other phobias with exposure response therapy, in which patients are gently encouraged to face the object of fear, with the goal of understanding that the object of fear is not as dangerous as patients may believe.