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Memory-Loss Case ‘Like Nothing We Have Ever Seen Before’

Man left with 90-minute memory, feels it’s the same day every day

A clinical psychologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom has described treating an individual with Groundhog Day-style memory loss as “like nothing we have ever seen before.”

Dr. Gerald Burgess reported the case of an amnesia patient –– who suffered memory loss after root-canal treatment at a dentist –– in the journal Neurocase.

Burgess was working as a clinical psychologist a decade ago when the patient was referred to him.

He said: “One of our reasons for writing up this individual’s case was that we had never seen anything like this before in our assessment clinics, and we do not know what to make of it, but felt an honest reporting of the facts as we assessed them was warranted, that perhaps there will be other cases, or people who know more than we do about what might have caused the patient’s amnesia.

“Our experience was that none of our colleagues in neurology, psychiatry, and clinical neuropsychology could explain this case, or had seen anything like it themselves before.”

The case involves a 38-year-old man who went to the dentist for a routine procedure and lost the ability to create new memories. Since the 1-hour root-canal treatment, during which he was given a local anesthetic, the individual cannot remember anything beyond 90 minutes.

He is fully aware of his identity, and his personality did not change –– but every day the man thinks it is the day of his dental appointment. He has to manage his life through an electronic diary and access to prompts.

Burgess added: “Amongst our allied health professions, what we did know about from decades of research and hundreds of case studies, is that bilateral damage to the hippocampal and/or diencephalon structures causes profound amnesia, and in the absence of apparent structural damage to these structures, it left an explanation widely open to speculation.

“An acquired or manifest deficiency of protein synthesis, required for permanent restructuring of synapses in the brain, seemed an intriguing speculation,” Burgess said. “This speculation was sparked by two seemingly key coincidences: one, the timing of when this protein synthesis stage occurs coincides with the patient’s forgetting at 90 minutes or thereabouts; and two, both episodic and procedural memories appear to require successful protein synthesis to occur for long-term memory permanence, and the patient cannot retain any new episodic or procedural memories.

“I don’t think that at this point the dental anesthetic or root canal can be blamed; it would be unethical and perhaps baseless scaremongering to do so; there is not sufficient evidence. I feel the story lies elsewhere, but that the preceding incident needed to be documented and not ignored.”

Source: EurekAlert; July 14, 2015.

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