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What is Anterograde Amnesia?

Daniel Liden
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Anterograde amnesia is a condition in which an individual is unable to form new memories. His old memories still exist and his short-term memory is still functional, but he is unable to commit new information into his long-term memory. Anterograde amnesia is almost always the direct result of some form of brain injury or trauma, but the exact cause of it, as well as the precise mechanism of memory formation and storage, is not fully understood. Conversely, retrograde amnesia is a condition in which an individual loses memories that are formed prior to some incident that causes brain damage.

There are a few different parts of the brain that have been linked to anterograde amnesia. A great deal of new information must pass through the hippocampus before it is committed to permanent memory; as such, damage to the hippocampus can prevent memory formation. The basal forebrain contains structures that produce chemicals important to learning, making it essential to memory formation as well. Other less prominent parts of the brain have also been linked to anterograde amnesia, though the connection between the structures and memory formation is often poorly understood.

The severity of anterograde amnesia can vary from case to case, but it always involves severe forgetfulness. Sometimes amnesia is chemically induced for research purposes; in these cases it is temporary. Often, anterograde amnesia caused by brain damage is permanent. Over time, memory loss can get better or worse; there is no set rule describing the progression of learning impairment.

Not all forms of learning are completely impossible for individuals with anterograde amnesia. While they are often incapable of recalling any facts concerning anything that occurred since they suffered brain damage, individuals suffering from amnesia may still find it possible to learn skills. Studies have shown that while an individual who is not able to form new memories will have no recollection of learning a new skill, he will often be able to perform a new skill without being taught again. This is because his declarative memory is impaired while his procedural memory continues to function.

The human brain is known for its plasticity. Neural plasticity describes the capability of nerves to form new neural pathways to recover lost functionality. In some cases, this involves transferring various neural functions from one side of the brain to the other. Neural plasticity has resulted in the restoration of some neural functionality in some individuals who have suffered brain damage. Scientists are studying ways to apply the property of neural plasticity to treatments for anterograde amnesia and other ailments caused by brain damage.

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Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden , Former Writer
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.

Discussion Comments

By anon249925 — On Feb 23, 2012

Can you gain new memory?

By Moldova — On May 15, 2011

@Sunny27 - I agree with you and I also wanted to say that I have heard of people with amnesia anterograde symptoms which are really the exact opposite of those suffering from amnesia retrograde. These people are not able to remember anything they did in a single day. They have very limited short term memory.

For example, I read about a lady that had amnesia anterograde and she had to write down directions to get to her home every day because she would immediately forget. She had a hard time learning things and often tried to take pictures of everything that she was involved with so that it might trigger some of her memory.

Her memory loss was due to brain damage that she had sustained because she had recovered from being in a coma.

By Sunny27 — On May 14, 2011

@Subway -It does sound like an interesting film. I have heard of people blocking out parts of their memory because it was too traumatic as a coping mechanism, but I have never heard of anyone blocking out their entire past like that, wow.

I know that some people that have had really traumatic childhoods develop multiple personalities as a way of blocking these memories and creating new fabricated ones under a different identity. These identities actually help the person cope with their disorder, so I can see how stressful events might contribute to memory loss.

By subway11 — On May 13, 2011

The loss of memory that you see in amnesia symptoms is really scary. People that have retrograde amnesia cannot remember their past and those with anterograde amnesia cannot form any present memories.

There was a controversial documentary entitled, “Unknown White Male” and it was the subject of a man that developed complete amnesia retrograde. This type of condition where you basically erase your past and do not have any knowledge of who you are is really rare.

This movie was controversial because the documentary states that this man developed this loss of memory due to a reaction to a traumatic event in his life. He blocked out his whole past and when I read about his story they referred to this phenomenon as being in a fugue condition which allows you to separate from your identity.

While this does happen from time to time some scientists feel that a complete loss of past memory like this is so rare that some doubted the validity of the film. He did not suffer an injury nor were any drugs taken that could have resulted in brain damage which is why some critics of the film still have questions.It really sounded like an interesting film that I will have to rent.

Daniel Liden

Daniel Liden

Former Writer

Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
Learn more
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