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Me and My Memory:
Developmental Amnesia

Listen to Me and My Memory

Tuesday 23 Jan 2007 3.45pm (original TX Wednesday 2 August 9.30am)

Most of us take our memories for granted. In this series you'll meet six people who don't have that luxury.

John has developmental amnesia. He can't remember day to day events like what he had for lunch, or where he was sitting just a few moments earlier yet but he can tell you who the entire England football team is or discuss stories around the day's news events.

His immediate memory is fleeting yet he is like a walking dictionary. How has he managed to acquire a vast bank of knowledge of history, news and banks of facts and yet has such difficulty with forming memories of the day to day?

John was born 29 years ago, prematurely, one of twins. Because he didn't get enough oxygen in hospital the part of his brain which mediates his memory for events - the hippocampus - was damaged while the area which allows him to acquire long-term memories was spared.

In this fascinating programme, John talks candidly about how he finds his way to work, remembers the right bus, and how with the help of a note filled diary and a mobile phone he manages many of his day to day memory failings. He talks about the immense concentration required of him at work - how he remembers customer requests and why he gets huge pleasure from reading fantasy novels.

He admits he is attracted to complexity despite the pitfalls. His mother, Beverley, explains why she has always taken lots of photographs and films of family events to document their family's life and provide a partial replacement to some of John's lost memories whilst cognitive neuroscientist, Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem helps to explain what's happened to John's brain and what it tells us about our memory system.

YOUR COMMENT

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Lynne Haywood
Thank you for a very interesting programme on the morning of 2nd August 2006. It was interesting that Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem mentioned mental imagery being the method we all use to think back in time to recall something or some event. I was extremely surprised to be told by Dr. Keith Herne (psychologist and world leader in research into lucid dreaming) that some people are not able to recall and visualise objects. He himself is such a person. This started me thinking about how such people do see and understand what they are seeing. I later came to the conclusion that strange exhibits in the Tate Modern, which infuriate the majority of the public, are possibly mainly of interest to people who cannot visualise. An unmade bed for example is an unmade bed, both in the mind and in reality - seen one and you have seen them all. But for those people who are unable to visualise, an unmade bed in an exhibition is an astounding work of art which, like John's photos in your programme, give substance to something regularly seen but not remembered. I should like to know what the professor's opinion is on this idea. I should also like to hear what non-visualisers think of the exhibits at the Tate Modern. If they are impressed on the first visit, are they also just as thrilled to see the same exhibition a second and a third time? Best wishes, Lynne



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