Head Injury? What You Should Know About Anterograde Amnesia

Head injuries can affect certain parts of the brain that control memory retention, causing a condition known as anterograde amnesia.

Understanding Anterograde Amnesia

Damage to the brain caused by head trauma often causes amnesia, affecting parts of the brain that control memory. The most common type of amnesia, known as retrograde amnesia, causes an injury victim to forget information prior to an injury. Victims often have problems remembering people and events from their past. A less common type of amnesia, known as anterograde amnesia, affects the way a person retains new information. It often occurs after symptoms of short-term memory loss appear and affects primarily short-term memory function. A person with anterograde amnesia may forget common things such as:

  • A recent meal
  • A new phone number
  • Recent changes to a job or normal routine
  • Meeting a new friend
  • Names of recent acquaintances
  • Names of famous people

Since short-term memories are affected, people who suffer from anterograde amnesia experience a lot of frustration and confusion in their daily lives, because they have difficulty creating new memories.

According to a 2010 neurology study, 7 out of 10 patients with anterograde amnesia are capable of retaining new information on a temporary basis, but retention is often affected by “retroactive interference.” When this occurs, new memories interfere with previous memories. A person may remember an existing phone number, but forget it when a new phone number is introduced into memory. New information often cancels out previous information stored in the brain.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A proper diagnosis of anterograde amnesia requires a CT scan or an MRI test that shows changes to the brain. While mild brain injuries commonly result in short-term memory loss, symptoms may improve as the brain heals. People who experience moderate to severe brain injuries can experience permanent amnesia. People who have a prior history of brain injury; brain tumors; brain surgery; dementia; stroke; seizures; vitamin B1 deficiency; alcohol abuse; sports-related injuries; and vehicle-related head injuries have an increased risk of developing anterograde amnesia.

Currently, there is no cure for any type of amnesia, only treatments that focus on improving a patient’s quality of life through memory training, occupational therapy, and technology that offers visual or verbal reminders. According to the Mayo Clinic, anterograde amnesia can be permanent and get worse over time. Head trauma victims should always take injuries seriously and seek immediate medical help, regardless of the severity of their injury.