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The Mysteries of Amnesia

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 9 Apr 2010 | comments*Discuss
Amnesia Brain Skills Hippocampus Memory

Although many of us associate amnesia with some sort of accident or similar trauma, there are a number of disorders that can lead to amnesia, all of which can affect the brain skills of those who suffer from amnesia. But just how does amnesia affect people and how we can unlock the mysteries of amnesia?

Amnesia is caused by a number of disorders and results in memory loss to some degree. It could result from a tumour or a stroke or even be psychologically based as the brain tries to shut away bad memories.

The Imagination Link

Even though amnesia is known as a type of memory loss – associated with past events – it actually also does relate to future events as well. One recent study found that people who have amnesia could lose their imaginations along with their memories. But just how does this happen and what does it mean for people who suffer from amnesia?

Researchers think that it ultimately means those with amnesia are truly living in the present moment in time. If you think about struggling to remember past events along with imagining future ones, you are really in a sense forced to live from moment to moment.

Forming New Memories

In this recent research, scientists looked at patients who had severe amnesia and couldn't form new memories. Most had no detailed recollection of things that had happened throughout their lives. When researchers tried to get the patients to picture different scenarios and then describe what they experienced, patients came up with very disjointed descriptions of what they could imagine.

While they could describe some bits, they couldn't actually put the entire experience and picture together. So if asked to imagine being on a nice beach, they might be able to say there was an ocean but they couldn't describe an entire scenario with any level of detail.

How to Remember

When the average person is trying to remember something that happened in their past, they basically reconstruct the memory by putting together smaller pieces of their experience. This could include the people involved in that particular experience or it might be an object or another part of something that made up the experience.

Understanding the Hippocampus

This all happens – or at least, researchers believe this happens in the hippocampus part of the brain. People who suffered from amnesia in the recent study had a damaged hippocampus. Researchers think that in that same way as we reconstruct memories in the hippocampus, we also imagine future events in this region. So in this sense, our imagination goes hand-in-hand with memories. We can think of the hippocampus as the special common link that connects our past with our future.

Living With Amnesia

For those who only have amnesia as a temporary disorder, the news is perhaps not too distressing. However, those who have long-term amnesia can really feel the impact on their lives. Hopefully new research will unlock more of the mysteries of amnesia and how it can affect our brain skills and ways of thinking.

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