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Retrograde Amnesia
Retrograde amnesia (RA) is a loss or disturbance of
memory for events that occurred before a trauma,
disease, or a traumatic emotional event that caused the
memory disturbance. For example, after a person
suffers brain damage from a car accident, he/she may
be unable to remember events that occurred before the
brain injury, such as being in the car, getting in the car,
or events earlier in the day. Compare retrograde
amnesia with anterograde amnesia, a loss or
disturbance of memory for events that occur after a
trauma, disease, or traumatic emotional event that
caused the memory disturbance. Normally, the length of
retrograde amnesia is shorter than the length of
anterograde amnesia.
 
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This is known as Ribot’s law and is due to the fact that past memories are overlearned,
which makes them more easily accessible. In cases where someone has suffered a mild
traumatic brain injury (concussion), severe retrograde amnesia indicates the presence of
significant psychiatric overlay unless there is a plausible alternative neurological
explanation such as Korsakoff’s syndrome. Korsakoff’s syndrome is a syndrome of
impaired memory and other symptoms caused by chronic alcoholism. Retro is Latin for
"backwards." Amnesia comes from the Greek word "a," meaning "without," and the Greek
word "mnemonic" meaning "memory." Put the words together and you have "without the
backwards (part of) memory," referring to memories after a trauma or disease happened.
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