Friday, December 5, 2008

In Remembrance

You didn't know him, and if you'd ever met him he wouldn't have remembered you. H. M., perhaps the world's most important amnesiac, died Tuesday in a nursing home in Connecticut. He was 82.

When he was 9, he banged his head after being hit by a bicycle. He began suffering from seizures, which became so severe that at age 27 he sought the only medical treatment then available. A brain surgeon snipped two small pieces from his hippocamus. This stopped the seizures, but also stopped H.M. from forming new memories. He could remember events from before the operation, but for the next 55 years of his life he was unable to remember anything new.

His intelligence, his personality, remained unchanged, even though a critical component of his identity was lost. Most importantly, he spent the remainder of his life being studied by neuroscientists, and thanks to him we now have an understanding of how memory, and the brain itself, works. Because of him we know that we have two types of memory - let's call them emotional and physical. Emotional memory, of family, friends, events in life, is stored in the hipppocamus to be retrieved when needed. Physical memory, how to ride a bike for example, is stored throughout the brain. We know this because although H. M. couldn't form new emotional memories, studies showed that he retained his ability to form new physical memories.

He lived with his parents and then with another relative until age 54, when he moved to a nursing home. He managed to perform the tasks of daily life like shopping and preparing meals based on knowledge acquired before the operation. He was never able to fully understand the contribution he was making toward medical science. He was never able to remember the thanks he received. But today we can do what he could not. We can remember him, and his crucial role in our discovery of the workings of the human brain.

1 comment:

tunsie said...

Science[medicine]looks at cases and trys 2 say what happened with the current symptoms.this will assist them in determining treatment of similar cases in the future.the BRAIN is the part of the body that is not well understood.That use 2 b true of the heart,but now it is known 2 b a giant pump which supplies a lot of plumbing.the brain and its disorders r treated with different medications and a lot of times it is hit or miss.Doctors try one drug and it might or might not work.the more harm then good is alot of these drugs mode of action causes very bad SIDE effects. Cases where the efficacy of the drugs have worn off,more harsher treatment such as Electro Convulsive Therapy is adminstered where the patient is sedated and electrical impulses r generated to the temples 2 produce a grand mal seizure in hopes of helping the patient.but that has side effects associated with it[memory loss].the short and sweet of it is you can treat brain disorders 4 only so long before the side effects or the liver become dangerously damaged and the ultimate happens.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie