What would it feel like to live the same day over and over, without the ability to move on? It would probably be a confusing and challenging experience, and a British man knows exactly what it’s like because of the uncommon condition called anterograde amnesia. The journal Neurocase describes his unbelievable story which began with quite an ordinary event – a dentist appointment.
On March 14, 2005, the 38-year-old a member of the U.K. military known as “William O.” went to a dentist for a root canal surgery. Everything seemed to be going all right, but when the treatment was over, the patient couldn’t get up from the chair, had “slow speech” and was “vacant.” Even later the same day, he hadn’t improved and was eventually hospitalized. As a result, it turned out that the anesthetic required for this routine dental procedure had somehow affected William’s brain and had left his memory blank.
For a month after the admission to the hospital, he could only remember new things for about ten minutes. At the same time, William was aware of who he was, recognized his family and recalled everything from his life before that trip to the dentist. While being totally unable to form new memories, his condition improved over time and now he remembers things for up to 90 minutes…
Every day William wakes up believing it’s 2005 and he has to go to the dentist appointment. To help him remember, his family created an electronic diary with the most important events of the recent years. William reads it each morning and every time gets genuinely astonished to learn that the family pet died and some of his friends got married.
Scientists still have no idea how a simple local anesthetic could have possibly triggered such a severe memory condition. Moreover, prior to the incident, neither William nor his family had any history of mental or neurological disorders. And finally, what is probably the most curious thing about his case, different brain scans made with all the known techniques show no signs of damage in the patient’s seahorse-shaped hippocampus, a region responsible for learning and memory. The abnormalities in this brain area are exactly what causes the anterograde amnesia. If his brain is perfectly fine, then what has triggered such an unusual memory disorder?
The researchers have a couple of possible explanations for this unique cognitive phenomenon. One of these suggests that William has so-called psychogenic amnesia and has lost his memory as a result of a traumatic event. The problem is that he hadn’t experienced any traumatic events before the incident.
Another explanation is that memory loss took place due to a deficiency in protein synthesis. Without this process, synapses (brain cell connections) cannot be restored, which leads to the fact that the brain fails to process and store information correctly and, therefore, is unable to form new memories.
The case is so remarkable that the researchers who described it in the journal said it was completely new to science. “One of our reasons for writing 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,” said Dr. Gerald Burgess, the study’s lead author and professor at the University of Leicester.
Is there any possibility that one day William recovers from this odd condition? “I suspect that that will only happen if there’s a broader understanding of the problem by having other people’s stories evident,” Dr. Burgess said.
Unfortunately, patients suffering from mental disorders and memory conditions are extremely difficult to recover simply because the human brain is still an unsolved mystery for science. Unless the researchers figure out what’s going on with William’s memory, the poor man will probably be stuck in the same day for a lifetime…
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