Having retrograde amnesia means that patient has lost the ability to recall events that happened just before the onset of amnesia.
Having retrograde amnesia means that patient has lost the ability to recall events that happened just before the onset of amnesia. In most cases, afflicted individuals generally lose recollection of their most recent memories. Older memories are more likely to be retained. Majority of people remember memories from their childhood and adolescence. The symptoms may include
- Issues with mental coordination
- General confusion
- False memories
- Forgetting people, locations, information and faces that were learned before the incident, which prompted the amnesia
- The only specific symptom of retrograde amnesia is forgetting past events as opposed to new ones
However, the patient may still recall certain skills, such as driving, bike riding or playing an instrument. Depending on the cause of retrograde amnesia, the afflicted person may or may not be able to develop new memories and relearn certain skills.
Causes of retrograde amnesia
At times, it can be difficult to track the exact cause of person’s retrograde amnesia. The common causes may include
- Brain injuries
- Traumatic events
- Nutrition issues
- Infections (brain abscess, meningitis, encephalitis)
- Electroconvulsive therapy, commonly known as shock therapy
- It can also be due to cerebrovascular accidents, stroke or head injury
- Alcohol abuse or drug abuse
- Alzheimer’s disease: It is another common cause of retrograde amnesia. Alzheimer’s disease often occurs gradually. Mild forgetfulness seems harmless, but with Alzheimer’s, it progressively escalates to the inability to remember all kinds of facts and information. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this affliction.
- Cardiac arrest: Individuals who undergo cardiac arrest are particularly susceptible to retrograde amnesia. During cardiac arrest, people cease breathing that can cut off oxygen to the brain. This may lead to mental health issues.
Treatment options for retrograde amnesia
Retrograde amnesia may resolve in less than 24 hours or may persist for a lifetime depending on the cause. Short-lived loss of blood flow, limited epileptic seizures, and psychogenic amnesia tend to be temporary. However, permanent injury to the brain tends to cause amnesia to exist longer or be permanent. The diagnosis and reason for getting amnesia will determine how long the symptoms will last. If the structures that hold memories are permanently shut down, it may be temporary. If they are destroyed, it can be much more difficult to develop new memories. Treatment of amnesia depends on the underlying causes. The following treatments and preventative measures are currently used in the fight against amnesia symptoms:
- Meditation: Practicing mindfulness and breathing exercises can help the nervous system function properly.
- Drugs: Cholinergic drugs (e.g., donepezil) may improve memory slightly and temporarily in a few patients; these drugs are often tried in dementia as well. Otherwise, no specific measures can hasten recovery or improve the outcome.
- Sleep schedule: Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, making sure to get an adequate eight hours of sleep each night.
- Occupational therapy: This treatment is suitable for persistent amnesia symptoms. It helps people learn new things and adjust to a new lifestyle. It involves learning new information to replace what was lost or use memories as a basis for taking in new information and memory training. Some people also use electronic organizers for daily activities, such as the ones integrated into smartphones or handheld devices. Other memory aids include notebooks, wall calendars and photographs of people and places.
- Psychotherapy: The use of psychotherapy can also prove beneficial in the recovery from retrograde amnesia. This is particularly applicable in cases of severe mental damage due to accidents. Psychotherapy can also combat depression, compulsions, anxiety and even relationships with friends and family members.
To better prevent episodes of amnesia, keep the following in mind
- Avoid alcohol
- Wear protective gear when appropriate (boxing, driving, riding bicycles)
- Stay mentally and physically active
- Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated
Some retrograde amnesiacs benefit from multiple forms of treatment. Consulting with a licensed doctor is always the most effective way of determining which form of treatment is best for the patient.
Medically Reviewed on 4/21/2021
Warrington EK. Studies of Retrograde Memory: A Long-Term?View. PNAS. November 1996, 93 (24) 13523-13526. https://www.pnas.org/content/93/24/13523