Unexpected Amnesia – Strange Cases of Memory Loss

Amnesia can take different forms, which include: long and short memory loss, as well as the inability to form new memories. Researchers have spent a significant period documenting cases of amnesia, as well as the possible causes. During this time some of the strange cases that have been recorded include:

  1. Ansel Bourne

The inspiration for the Jason Bourne movies, which feature a trained assassin with severe memory loss, Ansel Bourne was one of the first documented amnesiacs. An Evangelical preacher who lived in Green, Rhode Island, the real Bourne had planned a visit to his sister in Providence on January 18, 1887. Instead of going through with his original plan, he withdrew all his savings and moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he had no connections. Bourne opened a variety store there, and introduced himself to the residents as Albert J Brown.

On the morning of March 15, 1887 Brown/Bourne woke up believing that it was still January 17th. He recalled nothing about his new life, and returned home to Green. Baffled by these occurrences, The Society for Physical Research ran some tests in an attempt to get to the root of Bourne’s amnesia. The preacher reassumed Albert Brown’s persona under hypnosis, but could not recall anything about him under normal circumstances. Brown told a backstory similar to Bourne’s, when hypnotised, but had no knowledge of the preacher. This dissociative form of amnesia is known as a ‘fugue state,’ and occurs when a person loses their memory for a period before returning to normal. The case of Ansel Bourne is the first one that has been documented. 

  1. Kent Cochrane

The region of the brain associated with memory is the hippocampus, and many cases of amnesia are a result of damage to this area. In 1981, at the age of 30, Kent Cochrane lost both his hippocampuses as a result of a motorbike accident. This caused most of his past memories to be erased, and rendered him unable to form new ones. Despite the loss, Cochrane can remember some events that occurred in the past, but views them as isolated ‘facts’ rather than things that have happened in his life.

  1. Michael Boatwright

On February 28, 2013, a man was found unconscious in a motel room in Palm Springs, California. He was rushed to hospital, and was identified as 61-year-old navy veteran, Michael Boatwright, while comatose. The man, however, remembered none of these details when he awoke. He could only speak Swedish, and recalled his name as Johan Ek. Five months later, his story remained the same and he was relocated to Uddevalla, Sweden, by the Riverside County of Mental Health. He began a career as a private tennis coach, and seemed to be living a pleasant life. Ek unexpectedly committed suicide on April 22, 2014, however, for reasons which remain unknown.  

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