Anterograde Amnesia

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on September 29, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney on September 29, 2017

Overview

Anterograde amnesia refers to a decreased ability to retain new information. This can affect your daily activities. It may also interfere with work and social activities because you might have challenges creating new memories.

Anterograde amnesia is a subset of amnesia. In such cases, the amnesia (memory loss) has already occurred. It’s caused by damage to memory-making parts of your brain. In some cases amnesia may be temporary, but in other cases it may be permanent. Some types of therapies can help you cope with this type of memory loss.

Proactive, anterograde, and retrograde amnesia

Anterograde amnesia, according to the Mayo Clinic, is one of the two primary features of amnesia. People with this feature have difficulty making new memories based on experiences and information they come across.

The other feature is called retrograde amnesia. This refers to the inability to remember events and people from your past. It can also cause you to forget well-established daily information, such as what time you go to work.

Proactive amnesia is another term that refers to anterograde amnesia.

Symptoms

Amnesia is sometimes confused with dementia. The latter is a degenerative disease that affects your memory and information about yourself. However, dementia also leads to brain damage that can lead to more cognitive challenges. Such challenges affect everyday functions, such as work and playing sports.

Anterograde amnesia deals more specifically with remembering new information. You may already have difficulty with long-term memories at this point.

Symptoms of anterograde amnesia primarily affect short-term memory processing. This can cause confusion and frustration. For example, someone with this form of amnesia might forget:

  • someone they’ve recently met
  • a new phone number
  • a recent meal
  • the names of famous people
  • newly made changes to a routine, such as school or job changes

Such symptoms differ from those of retrograde amnesia, which may include forgetting information you already knew before amnesia. For example, you might forget reading a book you’ve read before. Also, the symptoms of anterograde amnesia occur after you’ve already started experiencing memory loss.

One 2010 study published in Neuropsychology found that 7 out of 10 patients with anterograde amnesia were capable of temporarily retaining new information. However, a phenomenon called “retroactive interference” occurred. This is when new information interferes with the previously memorized information. For example, you might remember a number, but learn a new number shortly after, which cancels out the original information.

Causes

Overall, amnesia is caused by damage to your brain. This affects memory-making parts of your brain, such as the thalamus. Anterograde amnesia tends to occur after you start experiencing some symptoms of the disease, such as short-term memory loss. It’s caused by certain damages to your brain that lead to differences in the way you retain new information.

An MRI test or a CT scan can help your doctor diagnose physical causes of anterograde amnesia. These can help them look for changes or damages to the brain.

How’s it treated?

Amnesia is caused by brain damage. There’s currently no treatments that can essentially cure amnesia, but instead treatments concentrate on condition management.

Treatment focuses on therapies and techniques that help improve quality of life. Options include:

  • vitamin B1 supplements, in case of a deficiency
  • occupational therapy
  • memory training
  • technology assistance, such as reminder apps

There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat amnesia.

Risk factors

Your risk for developing any form of amnesia may increase if you’ve had one or more of the following:

Mild brain injuries may lead to short-term memory loss and your symptoms may improve as your brain heals. Moderate to severe injuries can lead to permanent amnesia.

Outlook

Amnesia may be permanent, according to the Mayo Clinic. This means that symptoms of anterograde amnesia can worsen over time. However, symptoms can also improve or stay the same, even following a traumatic brain injury.

Some cases of amnesia are temporary. Known as transient global amnesia, temporary memory loss may improve after an injury or illness. However, anterograde amnesia is most often associated with permanent memory loss.

As a rule of thumb, you should always seek medical help for any unexplained memory loss or for recent head injuries. Your doctor can detect any changes in the brain and offer treatment recommendations when appropriate.

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