Amnesia due to Brain Injury – Anterograde and Retrograde


The definition of amnesia is loss of memory due to brain injury, illness or shock.  A gap in memory or overlooking or ignoring selective events or acts that aren’t favorable to one’s position.  There is also what we call retrograde amnesia which is memory loss of events before the trauma or accident.  Anterograde amnesia on the other hand is memory loss after the event of trauma that caused the brain injury.

Anterograde Amnesia

An example of amnesia from a traumatic brain injury survivor comes from our TBI Voices interview with Angela;

Amnesia as seen in the movies is the curtain falling to blackness before and after.  It is portrayed as a confused person who doesn’t remember anything including who they are.  In real life amnesia usually happens at the time of the accident and can exist even if confusion isn’t a factor.

Angela’s first real memory is 2 weeks after her accident when her sister called and invited her to a barbecue.  A day later she couldn’t remember any of the conversation.  She didn’t even remember that the conversation even took place.  This is a good example of anterograde amnesia.

Angela’s memory problems are still ongoing but to aid with this deficits she at first had to write everything down in a journal to keep everything straight.  She eventually starting using an IPad as it became too cumbersome with the notebooks she had accumulated.

To read Angela’s entire TBI Voice story go to Angela’s Story

Another example of amnesia from traumatic brain injury survivor is the interview with Craig;Craig tells us about his experience with going home after TBI.  He has very little memory of this and what he does have is vague. Craig was discharged about three weeks after his accident. Craig was hit by a drunk driver while on his way to drop off his daughter and niece at a friends and then was headed for work.  He says he remembers the accident and kicking out the window of the back seat to get the kids out.  In his own words he states, “The last thing I remember is kicking the window out, getting my kids out and woke up about a month later”.

Craig also talks about how he really had amnesia for a period of eight months. When asked, “If we’re to take a period a minute after the wreck you would have no memory for as much as eight months” and his response was,”Correct.  Well, bits, sporadically, because it didn’t make any sense what I remembered”. This is another example of anterograde amnesia as his memories of the accident and before are intact.

To read Craig’s full story go to Craig’s Story 

Retrograde Amnesia

To give you an example of retrograde amnesia we will go to Quinn’s story in TBI Voices;As I have stated repeatedly throughout this project, the presence and length of retrograde amnesia is a particularly important diagnostic indicator with respect to the severity of brain injury.  Absence of memory for events before the trauma, retrograde amnesia, points to a more severe injury.

Quinn was referring a hockey game when he sustained his head injury.  While skating backwards he lost his footing and fell backwards.  His helmet was not secured properly and flew off on impact.  He hasn’t any memory of the accident and doesn’t have any memories for a few hours before the accident.  When asked, “Do you remember the day?” his response was, “I remember before the hockey game, I remember dropping off my wife at her parents house and that is the last thing I remember.  I passed a friend on my way to the game and he was on his way to work at the time at the ER that I was taken to. He came out and told my wife we’re holding him down and so on.  I don’t remember that”. He continues,”I don’t remember refereeing three games and most of the time I was at the hospital.”

To read the rest of Quinn’s story go to our TBI Voices Quinn’s Story

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Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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