We make fun of amnesia: The research points to a new way to form memories

Jun 7, 2016 | | Say something

We make fun of amnesia: The research points to a new way to form memories ;

architecture fibers of the white matter of the brain. Credit: Human Connectome Project.

The scene is repeated like a horrible movie. A woman wakes up in a hospital bed, with no idea how he got there, or even who he is. For another patient down the hall, things are even worse, he can remember his past, but you can not make new memories, and therefore exists in a perpetual state of limbo. He forgets the new faces as soon as they come out of sight. He is unable to remember recent conversations, or even their age.

These conditions are called, respectively, retrograde and anterograde amnesia, usually caused by traumatic accident, an infection or a loss of oxygen to the brain. Just imagine them is enough to send a shiver down the spine. Memories, after all, are vital to our sense of self. Without them, we are adrift in mental vacuum.

“Everyone is really terrified by this sort of thing. If the memories are lost, you lose your identity,” says Elizabeth Carrera, assistant professor of psychology.

Carrera studied patients as the previous hypothetical duo, and those with a mixture of both. She says that despite the amnesia makes it difficult to form new memories, she and her team are discovering new ways of coping with the disease. Even in the most serious cases, he says, certain long-term memories that were stored before the amnesia set in are preserved and those isolated islands of stability memory , if he agrees, it could be used as a scaffold or ” hook “for the formation of new memories .

a personal connection

as race describes his work, his empathy for dozens of patients studied is palpable. She talks about her predicaments tenderly, as if they were members of his own family, and his voice takes on a tone of urgency as detailed possible treatments. This personal connection comes from his experience as a child, she says she watched her grandfather slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease

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“That fear and sadness of potentially lose our memories is what motivates me as a researcher,” she says. “We will not stop the memory loss, but maybe we can make people suffering from it a little better.”

In addition to improving the lives of patients facing amnesia, the study of the disorder may also shed light on how we remember memories in the first place. Unlike diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which gradually spread throughout the brain, amnesia is caused by a sudden injury to a neural region called the medial temporal lobe (MTL). Because it always occurs in a specific area of ​​the brain, researchers can follow behavior patterns of each patient understand that the actions of the control region.

“You can see what skills are preserved, and what is damaged, and we can say that this region is or is not doing,” Race notes. “It gives us a better idea of ​​what the MTL for cognitive function.”

Anatomy of Memory

As a result, he says the race, MTL-a piece of tissue located inside the half of the brain plays an important role as a kind of neuronal crucible. It is an anatomical area “convergence” that combines different memories together into a coherent whole. And that’s not a small job. In the course of their work, the MTL should pull the information stored in different areas throughout the brain dozen.

The long-term memory is in turn divided into a number of sub-flavors: no procedural memory (to ride a bike or playing the piano), episodic memory (where you parked the car), memory semantics (knowing that the capital of Maine is Augusta). There is also spatial, temporal, visual and memory Topographic list goes on.

To get an idea of ​​how all these disparate types of memory come together in the MTL, think back to where you left your car this morning. In order to visualize the parking place, you must first pull the basic information about the time, spatial location and even identity object (recognizing that one thing shaped metal box with wheels is, in fact, a car ). Beneath the surface, a simple memory turns out to be a complex collection of several different thoughts. However, thanks to the MTL, we can remember that instantly as a single thought.

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This small region of the brain may also be responsible for our ability to think ahead. When we imagine events that have not happened yet, Race notes, we rely on our existing store of experience and information, and put them together again in new ways. You and I might have trouble describing our next trip to Paris in detail, for example, exactly where we’re going, what we will do, and what we eat as stroll along the Seine. Ask amnesia patients to do the same thing, and often is confused.

In summary, a damaged MTL makes it almost impossible to form new memories cohesive. But Raza says that many patients can have access to the knowledge acquired before the injury, sometimes unconsciously. Older “semantic” memories, such as the spelling of a particular word, or the provision of computer keyboard, remain stable against MTL damage, and she is finding that can be used to anchor new ideas in the minds of amnesic.

“if you have information that is familiar to you, which is a very powerful signal memory. What we are seeing now is, you can take advantage of these powerful memories to enhance learning that would otherwise have a break” , she says.

Exclude damage

Carrera and his team tested this idea with a group of patients with amnesia in 2015. The use of an image of a traditional phone keypad, the group of numbers in a sequence-specific relief, then asked patients to read the sequence again. Then, the same patients were a slightly different version: a keyboard of the same basic form grid, but with scrambled random numbers. Patients were able to recall sequences of numbers much more reliable when they were using the familiar keyboard, she says.

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“A keyboard is something you’ve probably seen a million times throughout his life, so it’s a good memory stored in its semantic knowledge,” says Carrera. “We found that even people with amnesia, you could use the existing memory to help them learn new sequences of numbers. It is very exciting because it tells us that not all types of integration of memory are impaired in amnesiac.”

In other words, he says, the study results may suggest a keyboard method to pass a MTL damaged, allowing amnesic cling to some of their short-term memories. The same conclusion applies to people with healthy brains, she says. If you are trying to remember a phone number digits and move to include your date of birth, for example, it is more likely to succeed, just for the extra help they are going to get from semantic memory.

The implications of having functional semantic memory could be much greater scope for amnesia patients, however. Such people may have a means to conserve and use new knowledge consciously, a skill that would otherwise be out of reach.

Carrera hastens to add that may be a while before their research can be used to improve rehabilitation therapy. Identify what types of knowledge are intact in patients and help them make meaningful connections that knowledge will be a challenge, since efforts will have to be adapted to the background of each individual patient. However, he says, his work does offer a ray of hope for patients who, for now, welcome each day as if waking from a dream.

This article was originally published on medicalxpress, Read the original article

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