The following article is educational in nature and doesn’t contain medical advice or scientific information. However, we strongly recommend that you contact a doctor if you think that you suffer from this disease.
Retrograde Amnesia is a form of amnesia (a psychological disorder that involves a disruption of memory) where someone is unable to recall past events that occurred before an injury or the onset of the disease, even though they may be able to encode and memorize new things that occur after its onset.
This form of amnesia is often temporally graded, meaning that subjects are more likely to lose recent memories, those closer to the traumatic incident, than more remote ones. This is because the neural pathways of newer memories are not as strong as older ones, which have been strengthened by years of retrieval and reconsolidation.
Areas affected by amnesia
The most commonly affected areas are the hippocampus and the temporal lobes, both of which are associated with episodic and semantic memory.
The hippocampus deals with memory consolidation, in particular episodic memory, and its main responsibility for ensuring that information go from being stored as short-term to long-term memories.
The temporal lobes deal with semantic memory, which is a more structured record of facts, meanings, concepts, and knowledge acquired about the external world.
Causes of the amnesia
There are several reasons why an individual might develop retrograde amnesia, of which the most common cause would be head trauma. This could be caused by falling, a car accident, sports injuries, or receiving any kind of blow to the head.
Another cause of retrograde amnesia is anoxia, a deprivation of oxygen to the brain. Without much needed oxygen, brain cells begin to die, resulting in gross damage to the brain.
Finally, diseases such as epilepsy and encephalitis may result from this type of amnesia. Also, Korsakoff Syndrome may cause retrograde amnesia. This is an amnestic syndrome due to alcohol and characterized by confusion and impaired memory.
Diagnosis and treatment
Retrograde Amnesia can be diagnosed by assessing the patient’s history, including past illnesses, recent surgeries, and drug history, and by conducting blood tests to determine any hormonal or chemical imbalances, or metabolic issues.
Several tests exist to assess the patient’s memory, like tests for factual knowledge such as known public events. Other ways to test someone is via autobiographical knowledge using the Autobiographical Memory Interview, comprising names of relatives, personal informations, and employment history.
This information could help determine if someone is experiencing Retrograde Amnesia and the degree of memory affected.
No pharmacological agent can treat this disease. When someone is suffering from Retrograde Amnesia, their memory cannot be recovered from simply being told personal experiences and their identity.
The types of treatment are mainly focused on methods and approaches that seek to help reverse the disease. Many variables are to be considered when approaching a treatment plan. Treating a 25-year-old alcoholic would be much different from treating an 80-year-old woman in a convalescent home.
Although it may seem that people with Retrograde Amnesia have great difficulty continuing their usual life, many of them are able to lead a normal life. Fortunately, in most cases, memory usually is recovered due to spontaneous recovery, even if it isn’t always predictable.
In the case of Robert Langdon, he gradually recovers his memories with the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks.
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