Retrograde Amnesia

What is retrograde amnesia?

Amnesia is a type of memory loss that affects your ability to make, store, and retrieve memories. Retrograde amnesia affects memories that were formed before the onset of amnesia. Someone who develops retrograde amnesia after a traumatic brain injury may be unable to remember what happened in the years, or even decades, prior to that injury.

Retrograde amnesia is caused by damage to the memory-storage areas of the brain, in various brain regions. This type of damage can result from a traumatic injury, a serious illness, a seizure or stroke, or a degenerative brain disease. Depending on the cause, retrograde amnesia can be temporary, permanent, or progressive (getting worse over time).

With retrograde amnesia, memory loss usually involves facts rather than skills. For example, someone might forget whether or not they own a car, what type it is, and when they bought it — but they will still know how to drive.

Paula woke up one morning, twenty years ago with retrograde amnesia and cognitive impairment but she did not know it until she began doing something [and realizing she’d forgotten how] or until she began interacting with someone she recognized and knew [and realized she’d forgotten how].

It was the most bizarre thing she’d ever experienced. Retrograde amnesia with cognitive impairment explained why she reacted differently to people she knew. She’d forgotten what she used to do, what she used to say, what she thought, what she knew about them, ….and she had no idea that this is what retrograde amnesia felt from the inside. And anyway, she would have forgotten the word retrograde amnesia anyway, along with all the other facts she forgot.

This was why she was not her usual self, she was not “out of sorts”, she was not upset with anyone, she was not even sad, she was scared. Finding out that you cannot remember what used to be second nature, memories linked to people, to experiences, to thoughts, to opinions, to decisions, to everything, is very very frightening, especially when you are at a complete loss for words to even convey that you have lost your mind, your private stock of experiences, of memories, of behavior [or so you think].

What was interesting was that aside from becoming silent and having trouble with tasks and not moving much [you end up not moving much or doing much when you have lost your memory and competence], Paula seemed mostly the same but not. People could not put their finger on what was different and she could not tell them.

Retrograde amnesia is hard to detect in a silent person who’s communication is suddenly impaired. Basically, the only way to tell is to watch a person perform [badly] and ask them questions about why.

Paula was able to remember that she no longer knew how to do her job while she was trying to do her job and failing. If someone had accompanied her to see if she was able to function normally [when they noticed that she was “not herself” and could not explain why] she would have been able to explain what was happening in the present, while it was happening. She could not remember that she did not know how to do her job, a few minutes after she stopped trying because of the retrograde memory loss. She would forget that she forgot a few minutes after she stopped doing the thing she was not able to do.

This is why it is so hard to detect retrograde memory loss. The person will have a passing knowledge of this memory deficit for only a few minutes and then will forget. It is a real nightmarish experience.

Paula’s retrograde memory loss was severe enough that she could not remember her own address [although she could recognize her house]. Once we found this out [by accident], then we were able to evaluate any medication she was given, by testing her memory for her address.

The only medication [of those that were prescribed] that helped intermittently was Paxil, so she decided to stay on Paxil. It took a year for the Paxil to work well enough for her to stop having such severe levels of retrograde amnesia although she still could not remember her address most of the time. Over a period of ten years, she was able to remember her address most days and eventually, she could remember her address every day all the time. It was a slow process. The Paxil was not without major side effects [mania, then hypomania when lithium was added to her medication regime] , and those side effects disappeared after ten years. [no more need for lithium so she stopped].

to be continued……..

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