What Is Retrograde Amnesia?

Updated March 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Explore Retrograde Amnesia And Its Symptoms and Treatments.

Retrograde amnesia is defined as the loss of retrograde memory, which the American Psychological Association defines as “the ability to recall events that occurred or information that was acquired prior to a particular point in time, often the onset of illness or physical damage such as brain injury." Retrograde amnesia can vary in severity, and the loss of memories can be particularly damaging and affect several areas of a person’s life. In severe cases, years or decades of learned information can be forgotten, sometimes permanently. However, there is help available for this condition.

A Detailed Overview Of Retrograde Amnesia

In most cases, individuals generally lose the recollection of their most current memories, but they usually retain older memories. This process is often referred to as Ribot's Law. However, even in the worst cases of retrograde amnesia, the majority of people maintain possession of memories from their childhood and adolescence.

Symptoms Of Retrograde Amnesia

Retrograde amnesia can significantly affect individuals' long-term memories. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include issues with mental coordination, general confusion, false memories, and loss of memories about people, locations, information, and faces that were learned before the incident that prompted the amnesia. 

Retrograde amnesia often affects an individual’s ability to recall facts more than skills. Despite forgetting some facts and even some skills, individuals with this condition may still recall certain skills such as driving, bike riding, or playing an instrument. 

Depending on the cause of retrograde amnesia, the person may or may not be able to develop new memories and relearn certain skills.


There are a variety of incidents and occurrences that can prompt retrograde amnesia. Accidents that result in severe head or brain injuries are a leading cause. If these incidents are severe enough to harm parts of the brain that store memories, they can lead to retrograde amnesia. The severity of the injury may also determine whether or not retrograde amnesia is temporary or permanent.

Other potential causes include a lack of proper nutrition and use of alcoholic substances. In most cases, these problems cause a vitamin B deficiency. If this deficiency persists for too long, it can lead to retrograde amnesia. Individuals with the condition may not be able to develop new memories or skills.

Further, encephalitis, a type of brain inflammation caused by viral infections, can also lead to severe damage to parts of the brain that are responsible for storing information and memories. Also, autoimmune reactions relating to cancer can also cause this inflammation and affect memory.

Retrograde amnesia is not only linked to physical accidents and particular mental deficiencies. Health complications such as strokes, Alzheimer's disease, cardiac arrest, and seizures can also lead to retrograde amnesia if the occurrences are severe and traumatic enough. Strokes of all degrees can be especially dangerous; as of now, specialists have connected strokes with dementia and loss of visual and verbal recollections. Ultimately, the location of the trauma can impact the severity of potential mental effects.

Individuals who experience cardiac arrest may be particularly susceptible to retrograde amnesia. During cardiac arrest, people cease breathing, which can cut off oxygen to the brain. If this is severe enough, affected individuals can develop retrograde amnesia and other mental health conditions. Cardiac arrest that lasts for too long can also lead to death.

Lastly, seizures can cause retrograde amnesia. Different parts of the brain are more sensitive and may be less able to recover from certain injuries, including seizures. For instance, damage to the frontal and temporal lobes are common causes of memory issues.

The Diagnosis Of Retrograde Amnesia

Clinical and mental health diagnoses should only be provided by licensed medical doctors who have the proper knowledge and expertise to diagnose retrograde amnesia.

In the majority of cases, doctors run certain tests before diagnosing individuals with retrograde amnesia. Diagnostic tests often include cognitive exams, blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, neurological exams, and electroencephalograms.

Treating Retrograde Amnesia

At this time, there are no medicines that are specifically designed to treat retrograde amnesia. However, doctors may provide certain treatments and therapies to counteract this condition. In most cases, the prescribed treatments are related to the ailment that caused this form of amnesia.

As of now, the most common treatment methods for retrograde amnesia are occupational therapy, technological solutions, and psychotherapy. The goal of occupational therapy is usually for the affected individual to learn new facts and use older memories as tools to store and create new memories. This manner of therapy also tends to involve strategies to process memories, social functioning techniques, and the replacement of lost memories.

In terms of technological solutions, tablets and phones can serve as valuable tools for individuals to learn and compartmentalize new information. These technological devices may also serve as reference points for previously lost memories. With such technology, it may also be possibility for old images, documents, or videos to spark something new or contribute to the replacement or development of a recollection.

Explore Retrograde Amnesia And Its Symptoms and Treatments.

The use of psychotherapy can also prove beneficial in the recovery from retrograde amnesia. This may be particularly applicable in cases of severe mental damage due to accidents. Some individuals may benefit from multiple forms of treatment, so it may be best to consult with a physician or mental health professional to determine the best combination of treatments.

How To Prevent Retrograde Amnesia

There are a number of healthy habits and precautions that may decrease one's susceptibility to accidents and health incidents that lead to retrograde amnesia.

Avoid Drugs And Alcohol

Alcohol and substance use can lead to a litany of mental health issues. Specifically, habitual drinking can lead to addiction and may increase one’s risk of stroke. Alcohol may also increase someone’s risk of cardiovascular disease, which can eventually cause cardiac arrest

Engage In Mental Activities

While mental activities benefit individuals of all ages, this form of prevention may be especially helpful for individuals who are older. The brain can become weaker and more vulnerable to sickness with age. However, each person has the capacity to strengthen their brain, regardless of age. Activities such as reading, frequenting new places, and taking recreational classes may help keep the brain healthy.


Another way to prevent retrograde memory comes in the form of exercise. The benefits of ongoing physical activity include, but are not limited to, the growth of brain cells, reduction of chronic pain, higher qualities of sleep, reduced risk of chronic diseases, heightened energy, and stronger bones/muscles.

Eat Nutritiously

Like exercise, nutritious eating is another habit that can offer a variety of health benefits, and it may serve as a deterrent against retrograde amnesia. Examples of nutritious foods include unprocessed fruits, vegetables, low-fat proteins, and whole grains.

Getting Help Through Online Therapy

If you or someone you care for is experiencing retrograde amnesia, you don’t have to go through this process alone. There are licensed counselors available with experience helping people with this type of amnesia. If going to a therapist’s office is too difficult at this time due to memory loss, you might opt for online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy. With BetterHelp, you can communicate with a therapist via videoconferencing and contact them in between sessions via in-app messaging if you have questions. 


Retrograde amnesia can have a significant impact on those experiencing it as well as on their loved ones. It may help to talk to an online therapist to learn ways to mitigate the effects of this form of amnesia and foment recovery of memory as much as possible. Reach out to BetterHelp today for more information.

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