Anterograde Amnesia

What is Anterograde Amnesia?

In the year 1956, the problematic condition in which an individual loses their ability to form new memories was officially categorized as anterograde amnesia.

Not to be confused with retrograde amnesia, it is estimated that approximately one out of every 20,000 people are affected by this form of amnesia on an annual basis. The following are some of the most important things to understand about the condition, including its causes, its symptoms, how it is treated and how it can be prevented.

Symptoms of Anterograde Amnesia

Specific symptoms observed in different cases of amnesia will depend upon exactly what classification of the condition it is that a person is suffering from.

The classification of anterograde amnesia is determined if a person has shown an inability to consolidate new memories. Though a person may be able to recall the details of long-term memories that they already possessed before coming down with the condition, new experiences will not be as easy to record into their memory base as they were under normal conditions.

Though many people associate the most common definition of amnesia to be a condition in which previously held memories can no longer be recalled clearly, this is specifically referred to as retrograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia leaves prior memories intact, which effectively makes it the opposite of retrograde amnesia in terms of the ultimate effect.

Though the symptoms of the condition can be summarized as difficulty in consolidating new experiences into easily recalled memories, the manner in which they manifest can be subtly different depending on the exact aspects of the amnesia case at hand.

In certain conditions, an individual with this form of amnesia may be in a permanently addled state that leaves them less capable of being fully aware of their surroundings. The lack of ability to fully consolidate new experiences into memories can greatly hinder a person’s ability to be fully aware of their current situation at any given time, which can lend itself toward a much easier chance of becoming lost in public.

In more serious circumstances, patients may lack the ability to fully take note of certain environmental details that are important to be aware of for their own safety.

In addition to a lesser ability to remain fully aware of the situation at hand, those with this form of amnesia might also find it particularly difficult to mentally record the faces of new people that they meet. Though those with this condition may be able to remember the faces of people that they are already associated with before being affected by the symptoms, consolidating memories of people that are met after the symptoms have arisen can prove to be quite challenging.

Oftentimes, those with amnesia are cognizant of the fact that their ability to fully consolidate new memories is hindered for one reason or another. Due to the fact that their lack of ability to fully consolidate new memories can interfere with their professional and social lives, the chemically caused symptoms of this form of amnesia can also be accompanied by emotional duress, such as irritability and depression.

Anterograde Amnesia Causes

Though there is no sole universal cause that can be linked with confidence to any and all cases of anterograde amnesia, there are a number of recurring causes that collectively lend themselves towards the most commonly observed cases.

One of the several ways that anterograde amnesia can develop in those who obtain it is through the contraction of certain neuro-affective illnesses. The illnesses that lend themselves to anterograde amnesia need not necessarily be the kind that impact memory directly, but may simply be the catalysts of physical alterations in the brain that lend themselves toward the impairment of memory recall, such as encephalitis.

In the case of encephalitis, the swollen tissue can become so inflamed that the brain’s pathways responsible for memory consolidation are pinched out of commission. If swelling from encephalitis continues on unmitigated, then it is possible for patients to suffer permanent impairment to their new memory recall potential.

In addition to inflammation caused by a number of diseases, the condition can also be caused by overexposure to a number of drugs that directly interfere with cognitive ability. Depending on the type of drug ingested and its effects, the severity of the amnesia can either be mild or more intense. There is no standard degree of impact that the abuse of any given drug will have on the ability of a person to exercise their full degree of memory recall, though it is safe to say that a higher degree of abuse will generally be correlated with a much higher incidence of more critical memory loss.

Under certain circumstances, the experience of a particularly traumatic event can also be the cause of loss in new memory consolidation capability. Due to any combination of factors ranging from shock to sensory over-stimulation, the experience of going through particularly traumatic events can cause a person to lose their ability to describe the details of events experienced following the incident. It can take anywhere from several days to years for the impact of the experience to cease interfering with the recollection of details relevant to new experiences.

In addition to the impact of diseases such as encephalitis, trauma and drug abuse, the loss of memory can also be related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Naturally, cases of Alzheimer’s disease are not the same and can entail their own unique effects on a case-by-case basis. However, some cases of Alzheimer’s may lend themselves towards either a temporary or permanent loss of ability to form new memories in full detail. Naturally, the different potential causes of amnesia can be co-morbid within the single individual and exacerbate the severity of one another’s effects if left unmitigated.

Anterograde Amnesia Treatments

Though the symptoms of anterograde amnesia can undoubtedly be highly frustrating to those who have to endure them, there are a number of feasible options for those with the condition to see great improvements.

Naturally, the unique manner in which the symptoms of this form of amnesia can be addressed will depend upon the specific causes of the condition on a case-by-case basis.

Though a person with this form of amnesia finds it difficult to recall memories that are newly formed, this is not synonymous with said memories not existing in the first place. Thankfully, the mind still records newly processed information even if one isn’t consciously able to recall these memories with just as much clarity as they would like to at the time.

The key to resolving this form of amnesia is not to necessarily recover the ability to create memories but to recondition the mind of one afflicted with amnesia to be capable of retrieving the memories that are already there but simply out of reach.

One of the most common methodologies employed to stimulate faster recovery from this form of amnesia is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment. This form of treatment is employed to help someone who suffers from amnesia to essentially reconnect the dual hemispheres of the brain. By doing this, one can potentially regain the presence of their mind in order to be fully aware of the memories that lie within it.

In addition to EMDR treatment, there are therapists who employ more conventional, hands-on cognitive therapy methods in order to help a person come to terms with the fact that their memory is challenged by circumstances out of their control.

Rather than engaging in EMDR exercises that are meant to correct the orientation of the brain’s hemispheres, cognitive therapy is primarily aimed at assisting a person in developing their own personalized strategies to help them remain productive and functional in spite of the reality of the condition that they deal with.

Through consistent cognitive therapy, those who have amnesia can have a set of effective strategies that help them come to a place of stability in their potential to clearly think, manage their time, make decisions and execute functions in a proper manner.

Eventually, inculcation of the strategies that a person learns in order to sharpen their memory in spite of amnesia can lead them to a state in which they are finally able to recall the memories that they have lost.

In certain circumstances, one of the main reasons why anterograde amnesia might manifest is the fact that the neural nodes in the brain have been dysregulated. Through the application of effective neural feedback strategies, practitioners can essentially help their patients bridge the gap that was broken between all of their important neural connections that play a role in consolidating memories concretely.

Anterograde Amnesia Prevention

Because amnesia can potentially manifest as a result of so many diverse conditions of varying intensities, it can be somewhat challenging for a person to effectively control each and every risk factor at once. Still, it is highly possible for a person to employ a number of preventative strategies that can at least mitigate the risk that they will develop the condition under the most preventable pretences.

One of the simplest ways that a person can lower the risk of potentially developing amnesia of any kind is to be conscious about avoiding the abuse of alcohol and all other drugs. By exercising a higher degree of self-control when ingesting any kind of substance that alters the mind, people of all different biological make-ups and health risk statuses can be far safer from the chance of having their neural make-up damaged by foreign substances.

For cases in which viral infections may cause inflammation that lends itself to amnesia, such as encephalitis, it is advisable to make sure that any infections are treated with unconditional promptness. Allowing seemingly benign infections to go on untreated is one of the most preventable yet common manners in which amnesia can develop in an otherwise healthy individual.

Lastly, minimizing the risk of traumatic head injury in all settings is a simple way to lower the risk of developing amnesia. Making sure to exercise the most basic safety precautions whenever traveling at a high speed, such as wearing a seat belt and/or helmet, can put anyone in a much better position for avoiding memory-altering injuries.

Naturally, certain individuals with unique conditions may be at greater risk of developing amnesia than others without the same complications.

In order to ensure that one is completely cognizant of all of the ways in which they can avoid developing amnesia from the exacerbation of any of their own unique risk factors, it is advisable to consult one’s primary healthcare provider in order to determine just what countermeasures are the best to take in any and all situations.

Some forms of amnesia can be difficult to detect when the symptoms are only manifested at a lower intensity, which can make it prudent to take the initiative in scheduling a consultation for minor but unusually recurrent lapses in memory.

Last Reviewed:
September 25, 2017
Last Updated:
November 08, 2017
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