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Memory and the brain

Forgetting and Amnesia

HelpLinked Module: Voyage au centre de la mémoire
Researcher Module: Brenda Milner, an Eminent NeuropsychologistResearcher Module: Entretien avec Brenda Milner, 91 ans, pionnière de la neuropsychologie
History Module:  The Day His World Stood Still: The Strange Story of "H.M."History Module:  The Modern Era of Memory Research

If you place your hands over your ears, you’ll be covering an area on either side of your head that approximates the size and location of your temporal lobes. It is in the medial regions of your temporal lobes–in other words, around the middle of your brain–that your two hippocampi are located. These two structures are essential for retaining long-term memories of the episodes in your life.

Many of the various types of amnesia result from the destruction of certain parts of the brain following a blow or an illness.

Damage to the temporal lobes, and more specifically to the hippocampal region, is what most often causes amnesia.

The particular form of amnesia varies with the extent of the injury, but in most cases where the hippocampi are destroyed, people will experience significant anterograde amnesia that prevents them from remembering anything new from the time of the injury forward.

Memory of events from just before the accident may also be impaired, but in general, distant memories and other intellectual abilities remain intact.

It was this classic form of amnesia from which the famous patient H.M. suffered. This man had both hippocampi surgically removed to quell his disabling epileptic attacks. His case history can help us to better understand what the specialists call “amnesiac syndrome”. In particular, his case confirmed the fundamental role that the hippocampus plays in encoding long-term memories.

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