People can develop amnesia for different reasons, but most occur because of brain trauma or being in a stressful situation. The memory loss will manifest in different ways and can be either partial or complete. There have been documented cases of amnesia that occurs unexpectedly, as well as very strange cases. These include:
The most common form of memory loss is retrograde amnesia, where the person affected is unable to remember past events. Anterograde amnesia occurs when a person becomes unable to form new memories, although they can remember their past. Clive Wearing, a British musicologist, began to suffer from both, after contracting a rare form of herpes, in March 1985. The virus attacked the central nervous system and caused severe damage to his hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that transfers short-term memories into long-term ones.
Wearing can now only store memories for a few minutes before they are forgotten, and cannot remember details of his life before 1985. He knows that he loves his wife, but often forgets that they are married. He is aware that he has children from a previous marriage, but their names elude him. Wearing can still work, however, as his procedural memory still functions and he remembers how to play the piano, even though he is unaware of his musical background and training.
Michelle Philpots’ memory loss began after she was involved in two serious accidents, one suffered on a motorcycle in 1985 and another five years later. Both accidents resulted in head injuries, and the combined brain damage caused her to begin having seizures, and she was later diagnosed with epilepsy. Surgery was performed to repair some of the tissue damage, and stop the seizures.
By 1994, her condition had escalated to anterograde amnesia and Philpots became unable to form new memories. Every night when she goes to sleep, she forgets everything that happened that day, and in the morning she wakes up thinking she is still in 1994. Even though she was with her husband before ’94, they didn’t get married until 1997. To remind her of the vows they took, he shows her the photographs of their wedding day every morning.
Anthelme Mangin / Octave Monjoin
On February 18, 1918, a young man was found wandering on the platform at the Brotteaux train station in Lyons, France. He was unable to recall anything about himself, except his name, which he told officers was Anthelme Mangin. The man was put into several institutions, over a period of twelve years, and his photograph widely circulated. Hundreds of families came to ‘take him home,’ but he recognised none of them, and they could not prove their relationship.
In 1930, he was correctly identified as a waiter named Octave Monjoin, who had left to fight in WWI and never returned. He had been wounded in 1914 and taken prisoner, by the enemy, along with 65 others. When the soldiers were sent back to France in January 1918, Monjoin’s paperwork had been misplaced and his family was not aware of his return. It is believed that he had developed amnesia as a result of the traumas he faced during war.