Amnesia historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Historical Perspective

The most famous case of anterograde amnesia is that of HM or Henry M. His brain lesions accidentally started the inquiry into the neurobiology of learning and memory.

Another notable patient is Clive Wearing, who was featured in the documentary The Man with the 7 Second Memory. Wearing fell ill with a variety of herpes simplex virus. The virus attacked his brain, doing greatest damage to the hippocampus, which is crucial for handling memory.

Oliver Sacks writes on two men with anterograde amnesia in two chapters of his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Both suffer from Korsakoff's syndrome, which causes an anterograde amnesia that is irreversible. "The Lost Mariner" chronicles the life of a patient who, since he has forgotten everything that has happened since World War II, lives in complete certainty that it is 1945. Oblivious to his condition, he also believes he is decades younger. In "A Matter of Identity", Sacks profiles the other man, also unaware he suffers from amnesia. Rather than having a consistent false belief about his situation, he deals with his amnesia by constantly re-evaluating and re-explaining his situation. For instance, he greets whoever is with him in the room over and over again, each time with a different name.