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10 facts about anterograde amnesia that you probably haven’t heard of

Updated on July 23, 2015
Brain Damage, the cause of amnesia
Brain Damage, the cause of amnesia

Have you ever heard about the anterograde amnesia? Maybe after a little explanation, you will have an idea. Anterograde amnesia is a type of amnesia in which you have no memory about what just happened. The person cannot create new memories, but his memories before the event that caused the amnesia are remained [1]. Anterograde amnesia also stroke Leonard, or Lenny, so he kept notes and tattooed his body with the information he needs to remember. Sounds familiar? It’s Lenny from Memento, a movie directed by Christopher Nolan.

So here are 10 facts about anterograde amnesia that you probably haven’t heard of, maybe some of them are shown on memento, but let’s say you haven’t heard them.

1. Causes

What happen? Why they can’t create a new memory? As you may already realize, all about that memory is controlled by our brain, if there’s something wrong with our memory, somewhere in our brain must be having a problem. Anterograde amnesia caused primarily by a brain injury, the events that lead to brain injury are varied from alcohol intoxication, drugs (like benzodiazepines), a surgery, and the tumor. Events that physically related to our head such as an accident, and sport also have a chance to cause head injury that leads to brain injury. We have to be extra careful about something that happens around our head, especially when you are riding vehicle or doing extreme sports such as rugby, martial art since a little injury to our brain sometimes leads to many unwanted things, from a normal headache to live our life based on the notes we wrote daily or less.

2. Which part?

So it’s our brain that has something wrong, but which part? This time we will read about some rocket science terminology that only few people will understand. The first brain part that the injury may cause amnesia is the hippocampus, hippocampus is a part that‘s responsible in dealing with new a memory, it works as a ’gateway’ for new memories in which every new information or memories must pass hippocampus in order to be stored in our brain. The next part is basal forebrain; basal forebrain is a group of a structure that produces acetylcholine, a chemical compound that helps cells in our brain store new information during learning. The last one is diencephalon, some kind of structure that includes the medial thalamic nuclei, currently there is not a clinical proof of why the damage of this area related to amnesia. Well, those are two parts that might be injured if someone’s having anterograde amnesia. I hope you understand what I’m saying because I’m not a part of the few people that would understand this.

Lenny from Memento has anterograde amnesia
Lenny from Memento has anterograde amnesia

3. cases

Okay, so here are some people that unfortunately have to deal with such an annoying disease. Lenny does not count, so the first one is H.M. or later identified as Henry Molaison. Maybe he is the first well known person with anterograde amnesia, he went through surgery that removed his hippocampus, I don’t know why the surgery has to remove hippocampus, but he started as a patient and been studied in 1957 until his death in 2008. Clive Wearing, British musicologist suffers from both retrograde and anterograde amnesia. Another poor guy is E.P. he has a severe amnesia and only able to learn simple three word sentence. The most recent case is from 2005, a guy from the UK, after receiving a routine root canal treatment, started to have the symptom of amnesia. The local anesthetic he had to take somehow made his memory totally blank. There are probably more persons having this amnesia, those three are the most famous. Are interested being one?

4. What still he/she can do?

Someone who has this amnesia still able to do some things, if you watch Memento, you will notice that Lenny, the one who has amnesia still able to carry on a conversation and there is a period of time before all his memory is gone. Well, that is what he/she can do. The person is able to have a conversation with us, but after a while, poof, we no longer know each other. Another thing is, the person is able to improve his memory but just a little at a time. The brain of the person who has amnesia still able to learn despite the inability to have a new memory, he can learn through do the task many many times. At last the person will have a new ability, but cannot remember when he learns it and how. Some treatments also work well as the guy from the UK we talk about before only could remember information for 10 minutes at the beginning, but now he is able to keep it for 90 minutes.

5. Treatment?

Now we will talk about what we, people who do not have amnesia, can do to those who have. The first thing is to go to the therapist of course; an occupational therapist will help a person with amnesia to learn new information via memory training or other method. Unfortunately, there are currently no clinically proven drugs to treat amnesia. In some types of amnesia, the lack of thiamin is the main cause so consuming the proper nutrition to provide the lack of thiamin is needed. Researchers have tried to find neurotransmitters that involve in memory formation which may lead to new methods of treatment, but the complexity of the brain makes it difficult to use a single medication to treat amnesia. Maybe the best thing you can do is providing him with a good reminder which we will read later, and try to train his memory through a procedural task.

6. his twin brother retrograde amnesia

This time is not about the anterograde but about his ‘twin’ brother retrograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia destroys the newer memory first, and to the old one as the amnesia gets more severe. It works that way because the container of newer memory is not as strong as the older one. One thing we can be sure is that both types of amnesia we talk about (retrograde and anterograde) only destroy the episodic memory, the procedural is not. So the person with amnesia is able to identify himself and his personality, plus any ability that involves motor skills like riding a bike. That person is able to ride a bike but do not remember when he learns it.

7. notes are your friends

Here’s what we can do to help a person with anterograde amnesia live his life. Write a note, maybe tons of notes. The technology nowadays is very helpful; we can use our smartphones, whether it’s an iPhone or android or blackberry. We also can use the traditional note with pen and paper. There is a bunch of applications that help us to keep a note and reminder, plus smartphone is able to contain a large amount of data and we can use it everywhere. Some of the well known note applications (except the built in app) for android are Evernote (also available for ios), OneNote, SimpleNote, and GoogleKeep. For ios platform are Vesper, drafts, and notability. Note Applications are so helpful for people with anterograde amnesia so he does not have to tattoo his body with a not so important reminder like ‘you have slept with Monica three times’.

8. Early symptom?

Okay, so the annoying neighbor accidentally (or not) hit your head with a baseball ball and now you can’t remember why you are so angry. Is that an early symptom? Well, there is no exact early symptom that has proven scientifically, the symptom is probably the same with another type of amnesia, but according to Clive Wearing, everything started with a headache. A couple of days later, he forgot his daughter’s name, a week later the herpes encephalitis started to destroy his memory, both short term and long term. We can see some of the general symptoms of amnesia, first are confusion and disorientation, if a person looks confused, looking at the house as if it a stranger’s house, it may be the sign. Second, the ability to recall the information of both the long past event and recent event, we can clearly see these signs when we try to talk to that person. So do you remember what your neighbor did to you?

9. movie about this

Memento is not the only one; there are more movies about amnesia. It seems that the amnesia is an interesting topic for Hollywood movie makers. Amnesia mostly cured by the same way it started if we watch a funny movie, but most of Hollywood movie makers represent more accurate amnesia depiction on their movies. The first move is memento, a thriller movie directed by Christopher Nolan. Memento is one of the best depictions of anterograde amnesia, where Leeny, the main character has to live and try to kill the man who killed his wife via notes and tattoos he wrote to remind himself. Second is Bourne, The Bourne trilogy. Although Bourne does not have anterograde amnesia, he has such an extreme memory loss he has to spend three movies to acquire his identity. Other movies with a memory loss in them are Vanilla sky, Mulholland Dr., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One last thing is, do you remember Dorry from Finding Nemo? I think she has anterograde amnesia.

Dorry from finding nemo
Dorry from finding nemo

10. prevention

There are some things we can do prevent amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is just a form of amnesia, so the prevention of amnesia also works to prevent anterograde amnesia. As we already know, brain injury is possibly the main cause of amnesia, so do not do anything that will injure your brain. Don’t drink too much alcohol; alcohol intoxication could injure the brain that leads to amnesia. Wear helmet for protection. Wear one when you go bicycling, and wear a seat belt when you drive, head is the one we have to protect the most. Treat any infection immediately. The infection could spread to the brain and cause fatal injury, before it happens, stop the infection and treat it correctly. Seek medication if you find any symptoms, such as stroke and severe headache. Those two cases can lead to brain damage.


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