Retrograde amnesia (RA) was studied in patients with Huntington's disease (HD) or Alzheimer's disease (AD) using an updated version of the remote memory battery originally developed by Albert, Butters and Levin. Regardless of whether remote memory was measured by unaided recall or cued recall, HD patients exhibited deficits that were equally severe across decades. RA was more severe in AD than in HD patients and the AD patients recalled significantly more items from the 1940s and 50s than from the 60s, 70s or 80s. The AD patients also displayed dysnomia, while the HD patients did not. Naming difficulties appeared to contribute to the poor overall performance of the AD patients, but did not account for the temporal gradient of their RA. These findings, like recent reports focusing on these patients' ability to learn new information and to search semantic memory, indicate that the processes underlying AD and HD patients' memory failures are distinct.