Stress May Have Caused Man's Rare Form of Amnesia

Jeffrey Alan Ingram didn’t know his name or how he had ended up in Denver. So he went on TV and asked if anyone recognized him.

Someone did -- his fiancée, who was back in Olympia, Wash. According to wire reports, the 40-year-old Ingram left his Olympia home on Sept. 6 with plans to visit a friend dying of cancer.

He found himself in Denver on Sept. 10, with no memory. Police there say he ended up at a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a condition called dissociative fugue, a type of amnesia.

Most of us know amnesia from the movies. Someone gets hit on the head and loses his memory. Ingram’s type of amnesia is usually brought on by stress -- a dear friend dying of cancer could perhaps qualify -- but as with typical amnesia, the person loses his or her sense of identity and becomes confused.

With dissociative fugue, they also tend to wander (fugue comes from the Latin word for “flight”). Typical amnesia is rare, and this type is even rarer. This is most definitely a medical oddity.

Ingram, who is reportedly back home in Washington, still has no memory. He had a previous episode of amnesia in 1995 where he disappeared for nine months and was found in a Seattle hospital.

It is hard to say whether this has any bearing on his current case or what it means for his chances of recovery. Though any type of amnesia can last for extended periods of time, recovery can also be sudden. It is hard to say what to expect for Ingram at this point.

More information on dissociative fugue can be found on WebMD.

By Michael Smith, MD, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Wire reports. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: Dissociative Fugue.