Anterograde Amnesia

Noura Al Bistami, Devin Kowalczyk
  • Author
    Noura Al Bistami

    Noura has completed her MSc in Neuroscience from King's College London after receiving her BA in Psychology from the American University of Beirut. She is currently pursuing her career in Neuroscience, and has taught subjects pertaining to psychology, english literature, history, neuroscience, and neurobiology.

  • Instructor
    Devin Kowalczyk

    Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

What is anterograde amnesia? Learn the definition of anterograde amnesia and see its causes and various symptoms. See common anterograde amnesia treatments and stages. Updated: 08/20/2021

Table of Contents


What is Anterograde Amnesia?

Anterograde amnesia is defined by the inability to learn or retain new information. It is one type of amnesia, which is defined as memory loss. Anterograde amnesia may be caused by damage to the memory-related structures of the brain, and it may be temporary or permanent

Anterograde Amnesia Examples

The most famous example of a patient with anterograde amnesia is a man known as H.M. He suffered from epilepsy and underwent a procedure that removed certain parts of the brain. One part was later confirmed to be a key structure for memory processing. He was able to learn how to perform something, like an entire maze, without consciously seeing the maze before. This is because he was unable to learn new information but was able to learn new skills, so he consciously could not remember learning the maze even though he had the skill. Anterograde amnesia can also be seen in film, like the movie "Memento," where the main protagonist, Leonard Shelby, suffers from the inability to learn new information.

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Structure of Anterograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia involves the damage or degeneration of several parts of the brain pertaining to memory processing.

What Part of the Brain is Affected by Anterograde Amnesia?

Anterograde amnesia may be caused by damage to certain brain areas pertaining to the median temporal lobe, which plays a key role in short-term memory and the processing of memories. While the mechanisms that underlie how memory is processed or stored, structures within the median temporal lobe have been shown to be related to memory processing. One key structure is the hippocampus, which is a sea horse-shaped structure primarily responsible for anterograde amnesia given its key role in short-term memory. The hippocampus is thought to play a key role in the transition of short-term memories into long-term memories via several key mechanisms, and research has shown that this occurs during sleep.

The hippocampus, an important structure for memory.

anterograde amnesia, amnesia, hippocampus

Importantly, patient H.M. had lost major parts of the median temporal lobe during the operation, and this caused him to experience anterograde amnesia.

There are also several types of memory that may be affected by amnesia. Short-term memory refers to information that is held for a short amount of time, such as remembering the name of someone you just met. Long-term memory is more complex and requires several steps in order for a memory to be embedded into the reservoir of memories within the brain. Memory can be further divided into two categories of declarative and non-declarative memory. Declarative memory refers to factual information, or information that can be declared, whereas non-declarative memory, also known as procedural memory, refers to information pertaining to how to do something, such as riding a bike.

Declarative memory is further divided into semantic memory, corresponding to factual information, and episodic memory, referring to the recollection of specific events or personal facts. Episodic memory is thus autobiographical in nature. The hippocampus has been found to be greatly tied into processing episodic memories, which is why anterograde amnesia tends to affect episodic memory only. Going back to patient H.M., it was clear that his procedural memory was not affected since he was able to finish the maze with ease, but his memory of the event itself was affected, corresponding to his episodic memory.

Anterograde Amnesia vs Retrograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia is the inability to remember new information learned, whereas retrograde amnesia refers to the inability to recall older memories. Retrograde amnesia also affects episodic memory because those who have it are unable to recall past memories while retaining the ability to perform skills. Thus, retrograde amnesia also affects the hippocampus and other memory-related structures depending on the severity of the case.

One example of retrograde amnesia is when a person is no longer able to recall the names of their loved ones, whether or not they own a house or car, the hair color of their spouse, or the dates of specific events. In contrast to this, patients with anterograde amnesia are able to recall past memories but are unable to remember newly-learned facts, such as where they parked. Like patients who have anterograde amnesia, they are still able to drive or play an instrument, since procedural memory tends to remain intact.

Causes of Anterograde Amnesia

There are several possible causes of anterograde amnesia, and some are listed below.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between anterograde and retrograde amnesia?

Anterograde amnesia is the inability to recall newly-learned information whereas retrograde amnesia refers to the inability to recall past memories.

What can people with anterograde amnesia remember?

People with anterograde amnesia can remember older memories and skills, since their long-term memory is still in tact in addition to their procedural memory.

What are the symptoms of anterograde amnesia?

The symptoms of anterograde amnesia refer to the inability to recall recently-learned information, such as any recent life changes or the name of someone the patient just met.

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