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Today on Radio 4 I heard the very sad story of a man left with a 90 memory following routine dental treatment.

According to the case study published in neurocase, the infamous root canal in 2005 lasted 50 minutes. Following the procedure the patient, known as WP, was suffering “slow speech” and appeared “vacant” according to the dentist.

When after half an hour there was no improvement WP was taken to hospital. Initially his memory stretched just 10 minutes but over the following month that improved, eventually reaching 90 minutes, the level at which it remains to this day.

WP was initially under the care of neurologists, who suspected his symptoms may be caused by anesthesia. However brain scans showed non structural damage normally associated with this type of memory loss.

Anterograde amnesia: is the loss of the ability to create new memories after the event that caused the amnesia. Leading to an inability to recall the recent past, while long-term memories from before the event remain intact.

Retrograde amnesia: is the loss of memory about events that occurred, or information that was learned before the onset of amnesia.

WP remembers all personal details up to the morning of the event but nothing since [anterograde amnesia]. This means he wakes up each morning still expecting the root canal he received in 2005.

Thankfully WP’s personality and ability to problem solve remain largely unchanged. This means with prompts from his wife and using tools such as a digital camera, sat-nav and electronic diary he is able to get by in his day to day life.

a little bit of science

It had previously been understood that the functioning of the diencephalon or basal ganglial structures were the basis of forming new memories. But due to the absence of damage to these areas in the case of WP and the 4 others described in the case study it has been suggested that this is an over simplification.

The study suggests one explanation of this previously uncatalogued memory loss, which has elements of both aneterograde and retrograde amnesia, requries a new classification.

Dr Gerald Burgess presents a theory citing “the breakdown mRNA protein synthesis” as the cause of this unusual occurrence. However he goes on to state more research is needed

Featured image accredited to Marumari