Causes and Treatment for Retrograde Amnesia

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Reader’s Question

My name is Amanda, and I am doing a college paper for my Psychology class about amnesia. I was wondering what you could tell me about retrograde amnesia, also known as short term memory loss? How is it diagnosed? Is there any way to cure it or help it? What different things can cause it?

Psychologist’s Reply

Amnesia is most commonly known as memory loss. Memory loss can result from a traumatic event. The kind of Amnesia which occurs for events prior to the trauma is referred to as Retrograde Amnesia. Memory loss that results after a traumatic occurrence is called Antegrade Amnesia. (It is possible for a patient to experience both Retrograde and Antegrade Amnesia.) Retrograde Amnesia can be caused by trauma that results in an injury to the brain, commonly the temporal lobes or the hippocampus regions, since they are closely associated with episodic and declarative memory (this is the aspect of memory associated with facts). With Retrograde Amnesia, memory of the events or circumstances that led up to the resulting injury may never be able to be recovered. So, the patient loses the time that led up to the injurious event. This memory loss can consist of a few minutes or hours, or up to several years! The physical changes in the brain that are the cause for such Amnesia are still not known.

Retrograde Amnesia can have a variety of causes, but they can generally be categorized as neurological or psychological in origin. This kind of Amnesia can be diagnosed by assessing the patient’s history, including past illnesses (both physical and emotional), recent surgeries, and drug history; and conducting blood tests to determine any hormonal or chemical imbalances, or metabolic issues. Amnesia resulting from substance abuse will usually remedy itself once the patient’s system is free of the substance and would only reoccur if the substance is again reintroduced. Using imaging scans (such as magnetic resonance imaging) to detect any brain damage is another way to decipher whether the trauma was neurological or emotional in nature.

The thing about cures for Retrograde Amnesia is that one would go about the treatment on a case by case basis. Many variables are to be considered in approaching a treatment plan. Treating a 25-year-old alcoholic would be much different than treating an 80-year-old woman in a convalescent home. In the case of the alcoholic, abstaining from alcohol would be part of the treatment plan. Psychotherapy and hypnosis could be effective tools for treating such Amnesia if the nature of the cause is emotional. Having a basket full of different possible treatments is in a practitioner’s best interest in addressing Retrograde Amnesia.

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