Memory for one’s address

Who knew that one could forget such a basic thing as one’s address? 

 I would not have thought of this being possible if not for the fact that I regularly overheard Paula trying to organize an event on the phone at lunch. [We often lunched together at work- we were colleagues as well as friends].  It was during her depressive insanity attack and she didn’t seem to know her address. Even worse, she told me, years after that she didn’t realize that she didn’t know until the moment she was asked, and then of course, she got pretty upset- for a second and then she forgot about it. [she always had a letter addressed to her home address around, which saved her]. She recognizes now that she couldn’t report her loss of memory then to anyone because she’d forget . It was so strange. It was so scary.

What part of the brain processes personal information like one’s address? I have asked memory experts and they do not seem to know.

 I  got a few clues from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s post on Memory.  The Encyclopedia Britannica is my go to website to obtain up to date expert information on any topic. 

Memory, the encoding, storage, and retrieval in the humanmind of past experiences…….The fact that experiences influence subsequent behaviour is evidence of an obvious but nevertheless remarkable activity called remembering. Memory is both a result of and an influence on perceptionattention, and learning. The basic pattern of remembering consists of attention to an event followed by the representation of that event in the brain. Repeated attention, or practice, results in a cumulative effect on memory and enables activities such as a skillful performance on a musical instrument, the recitation of a poem, and reading and understanding words on a page. Learning could not occur without the function of memory. So-called intelligent behaviour demands memory, remembering being prerequisite to reasoning. The ability to solve any problem or even to recognize that a problem exists depends on memory. Routine action, such as the decision to cross a street, is based on remembering numerous earlier experiences. “ https://www.britannica.com/science/memory-psychology, Access Date: January 09, 2020. 

Forgetting one’s address seemed to me to be a significant clue. It seemed to be indicative of “deep” memory loss.

 Indeed, Paula not only forgot her address, she also had no idea how to do her job during the attack. She somehow forgot how to teach her subject. She was a teacher for 18 years and suddenly forgot how to do it. She was so confused. She couldn’t figure out why she didn’t know. She could not explain what was happening so she said nothing.  She had no words to describe it. This was so problematic.  She had to take a leave of absence from work because she had become so incompetent.  People [friend’s, colleagues, students, bosses] reacted by forgetting her previous history of excellence and made fun of her or got angry and impatient with her.  No one saw her sudden failure at work as sign that something was very wrong. It is tragic that this is the way people react. 

Kraepelin describes this impairment in thought and memory of depressive insanity states. He developed timed elementary level tests [basic arithmetic and comprehension ] to show the deterioration of thought and memory in thousands of depressively insane people like Paula. 

Kraepelin followed his patients throughout their lives and observed that impairments, no matter how serious,  were not permanent. He observed that the attack would spontaneously lift, with people recovering their wits. This did not happen with any other group in the insane asylum. Most other serious psychiatric illness came with a history of progressive or permanent  cognitive impairment.

 The cognitive impairment of Manic depressive insanity caused cognitive impairment that lifted with almost no permanent damage.  This seemed a really cool phenomena. 

Unfortunately spontaneous recovery in Manic depressive insanity could take months, years,even decades, during which one’s life was a mess. This is too long. Plus attacks would re-occur, with a relapsing pattern throughout life. 

My goal for Paula was to help her recover her baseline intellect and memory faster with the treatments that were available then. I didn’t know if I would succeed, but thanks to Kraepelin’s research – I had hope. 

Paula did recovered her memory for her address and with this, she recovered her intellect. 

I tested her memory every day to see whether she was fit to go out without help.   It took 15 months and many different trials of medication for her to show small signs of recovery of mind. Full recovery took at least ten to fifteen years with intermittent periods of intellectual disability that eventually disappeared.

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