When dealing with the subject of countless television and film plots known as amnesia, a few of the facts about this disease get lost in the shuffle. Of course though it is a relatively common plot device, the disease itself is incredibly rare and additionally rarely understood. Of the cases of true retrograde amnesia and anterograde amnesia, most are quite different from how they are depicted on film. And like many rare things, many hoaxes are prominent.
So in order to explore the loss of memory present in amnesia, we must first explore what memory is exactly. Memory is most commonly defined as the collection of experiences an individual has during the course of their life. These memories most often follow an individual well into old age where degradation of the mind takes place, but will often see itself through this process as well.
But there is one common type of amnesia that many people suffer, and it has been cited by some as a common cause for several problems we have even today. This is known as childhood amnesia, in which many people lose contact with information they collected during childhood and forget many things from their childhood. This form of amnesia is something that is sometimes addressed through cognitive therapy, but often many people simply lose these memories without any preexisting conditions.
But the most common type of amnesia seen in the media is also one of the most rare. Clinically, this is known as retrograde amnesia. The disease most commonly affects those who have sustained damage to the temporal lobes with several cases resulting in damage to the hippocampus. Similar to media depictions, this type of amnesia is commonly caused by a head injury, but some cases have also arisen from a form of traumatic stress.
In fictional accounts, most commonly made famous in the genres of cartoons and soap operas, amnesia is often seen as a temporary affliction easily countered by a comical injury (often happening in circumstances comparable to the original). The result is the immediate return of memory along with a recollection of all events happening during the amnesiac’s episode. In reality, amnesia is often treated with associations that can bring up “islands of memory” such as seeing faces and performing activities that the victim performed long ago. Examples of this can include performing with an instrument they knew how to play long ago, driving along a stretch of highway that could “jog” the patient’s memory, and interacting with people the patient knew prior to the onset of amnesia. Certain locations are often seen as having a positive effect on a person’s memories.
But are their cases that result in total loss of memory in an unfamiliar setting? Indeed there are several hoaxes involving such cases, but there are a few genuine cases as well. Such was the case with Benjamin Kyle, who was discovered in 2004 in Richmond Hill, Georgia with no recollection of any of his life’s experiences. To this day, Benjamin Kyle lives without a social security number and has no ability to collect benefits. He is a mystery to both those he has befriended since his condition and seemingly everyone else. Despite receiving national attention he cannot remember anything about his life prior to him being discovered naked and badly beaten and suffering from exposure.
This mysterious disease has far reaching effects even though it is rare. And those who suffer from it are often left with few options or hope of recovery. And everything about who they are becomes the greatest mystery to them of all.