Hollywood has a long history of using the loss of memory in cinema. At least 80 movies since the early 1900's have contained major or minor plot lines dealing with a memory disorder. Some of the most notable include the Bourne Trilogy (2002-2007) and 50 First Dates (2000), which display amnesia in two different lights. But how accurately are these disorders being portrayed? I went back and did some research on memory disorders, primarily one used in one of my favorite movies, Memento(2000).
Memento chronicles the life of a man named Leonard Shelby. Leonard suffered a brutal attack, which now prevents him from being able to make new memories. His wife was also murdered in the attack, and while Leonard wants to seek vengeance, he wakes up every morning with no memory of what has happened in the days after the initial attack. As it turns out, Leonard was suffering from a very accurate case of anterograde amnesia. As we learned in class, memory disorders generally come from damage to the hippocampus and the surrounding tissue, more specifically in this case, the medial temporal lobe, basal forebrain, and fornix. Aside from brain injury, this type of amnesia can also be caused by shock, emotional disorders, or severe illness. Patients of this suffer from the loss of declarative memory, which is the recollection of facts, but commonly retain procedural memory, which allows us to remember how to do things, like tying our shoes or driving a car. In class, we learned about the patient H.M. who also suffered from anterograde amnesia. He was able to learn new skills, but not remember that he learned them.
Extra Knowledge: One of the most notable examples of anterograde amnesia is due to alcohol intoxication, or as it is more commonly known on a college campus, a "blackout." If alcohol is consumed too rapidly, a severe rise in blood alcohol concentration can impair or possibly even completely block the brain's ability to transfer short term memories created while intoxicated to long-term memories for retrieval and storage. And while this may lead to some confusion/embarrassment the day after, just remember that slower consumption will generally prevent any memory loss. This might actually lead to more embarrassment the next morning, but hey, at least your hippocampus will be nice and healthy!
And who could forget this famous example of anterograde amnesia??
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