Most media portrayals of amnesia tend to be focused on Retrograde Amnesia (that is, loss of memories already in your brain) and usually rather unrealistically at that
. There is, however, another form of amnesia called Anterograde amnesia, defined as the inability to accumulate new memories. People who suffer from this tend to be unable to remember new facts ("declarative memory") but are still able to remember and perform basic tasks ("procedural memory").
One of the reasons Anterograde amnesia isn't portrayed as often as Retrograde amnesia in media (aside from the fact that it isn't as useful as a plot device
) is that the exact cause and nature is not well known, nor are the symptoms very consistent from case to case. Causes range (typically) from traumatic brain injury to drug overdoses to severe encephalitis.
People who suffer from Anterograde amnesia who live on their own often have to write notes constantly
in addition to living by constant and consistent patterns in order to maintain a more-or-less normal life. Sometimes, however, it can be severe or debilitating enough to require institutionalization.
Compare and contrast Laser-Guided Amnesia
- Memento is probably the most famous film example, where main character Leonard is a former insurance investigator who is seeking out the man who killed his wife and injured him (causing his memory loss in the first place), using tattoos, polaroid pictures, and other methods to leave himself clues. Notably, the film plays in reverse chronological order, which puts the audience in the same state of confusion as Leonard.
- The Lookout is another notable film example, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a former high school hockey star who was severely injured in a car crash and now suffers from short-term memory loss and bad social skills, and has to carry around a notebook in order to remember people's names and basic information. Eventually, he gets roped into a heist scheme at the bank where he works (as a janitor) by criminals who think they can manipulate and exploit his condition.
- In 50 First Dates Drew Barrymore plays a woman who suffered a severe head injury and can no longer transfer short-term memories into long-term ones. Unlike many other examples, though, the entire city where she lives decides to play along and pretend every day is the day she was injured. This doesn't stop her from falling in love with Adam Sandler, of course.
- Piers Anthony's novel Mute. Knot has a mutant power that causes this in others. Whenever he meets someone, their experience with him is not transferred to their long-term memory, so they only remember him as long as he's present. Once he leaves, they lose all memory of him a few seconds later when their short-term memory is emptied.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer the god Glorificus has an enchantment such that people can't remember that she shares her body with Ben even if they discover it. A few seconds later it'll be gone. Spike, since he's a vampire and thus not techically human, is immune.
- You can't remember The Silence in Doctor Who if you're not looking at them. This extends to pictures.
- My Name Is Earl: one of the people on Earl's list is a stuntman who, due to a stunt gone wrong giving him brain damage, hasn't had a new memory in several years. Every day he thinks it's the day he's going to do his stunt; and no matter how many times Earl makes up for stealing the man's girlfriend, the next day he has to do it all over again.
- A recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live was "Mr. Short-Term Memory," a purposely bad sitcom starring Tom Hanks. Here he is on a date:
Waiter: Here are your menus. Our Special this evening is Medallions of Veal smothered in a wine and mushroom sauce.
Mr. Short-Term Memory: (examines menu) Is there a Special tonight?
Waiter: I just told you the Special: Medallions of Veal..
Mr. Short-Term Memory: Look, just tell me about the Special, please? I don't want to hear all this babbling about Medallions of Veal - I don't even see it on the menu!
Waiter: I'm.. sorry, Sir.. there are no Specials.
Mr. Short-Term Memory: Well.. okay. I'll have the Poached Salmon.
Date: I'll have the same.
Mr. Short-Term Memory: Hey! Poached Salmon! I'll have that! (Waiter tries to take the menu) Excuse me, but I think we're going to need these menus to order the food!
Waiter: takes menu Uh.. I'll get you a fresh one. (leaves)
Mr. Short-Term Memory: Oh. Wow. Classy place. I hope they have Poached Salmon!