Lifelong Memory Problems, Possibly Due to Accident

by Robert McLellan
(Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)

I am now 76, but I think that it would be accurate for me to say that since puberty I have had a memory problem. Why do I claim that my memory problem originates from that time in my life?

memory problems story
I was invited to my first party where there were girls present and there were mainly school friends there. When I arrived at my friend's home and looked around at those gathered there, suddenly the names of many of my friends there escaped me - a very frightening experience which has plagued me ever since.

Not only people's names, but facts with which I should have been very familiar - in time, names and facts come back to me - but the problem here, of course is the loss of memory at a particular moment when you are discussing something or when someone who you have known over a long period of time appears in front of you.

When I was in my teens or twenties or thirties, I just accepted this as something that I was born with and as often your friends do, they say - "Oh, that happens to me all the time too" - probably to make you feel better.

When studying for an exam at school or at University I remember now how I developed the habit of sitting down the night before the exam and desperately reading my notes over and over again in the hope that I would remember them.

Even then I am pretty sure that I just accepted the fact that I needed to do this as close to the exam as possible even literally minutes before. But at that time I didn't think to ask myself why others in my class seemed to remember facts more easily and hold them in their memory for much longer periods than I could.

Over the past decade or so I have become more and more convinced that there is definitely something unusual about my memory losses. I keep coming back to an incident that occurred when I was probably between 11 and 13.

I was invited to a birthday party and Mum put me on a bus for the short trip to the home where the party was to be held. When I jumped off the bus, I was very excited and ran around behind the bus to cross the road.

The next I knew was that I was at home in bed and I had a scar on the side of my face which I apparently received when I ran into a car as I came out from behind the bus (this was in the 40's).

Strangely enough when I think about it even now I never found out from Mum whether or not I went into hospital or, if not, what sort of medical treatment (if any) I received, or how long I was unconscious.

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Feb 07, 2013
by: MC

Thank you for answering, Doug. I'm glad you're interested. I would be so happy if the info really helped a person with brain injury.
  • Adderall is for energy... I wish I could get a stronger dose. That would help me more.

  • Provigil is to keep you awake. It won't give the energy to go do something though!

  • Exelon is for Alzheimer & Dementia... It definitely helps me think, reason, and also it helps me smell and, of course, taste! My Dr said he never heard of that but I know it does-for me.
If you ever hear of anything else for 'get up and go' energy, plz let me know. Thank you.

Doug's Reply. Thanks for the extra details about your brain meds. The Exelon (chemical name Rivastigmine) is especially interesting.

Looks like Exelon works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, by blocking the action of chemicals that break down acetylcholine.

You know, the best energy booster I've ever found is my regular exercise program. The problem with supplements, of course, is that your body adapts to them.

Take coffee, for example. The first time you drink a double espresso, you get a jolt of energy that lasts awhile. But drink one every day for a week, and you'll get less and less of a boost. Before you know it, you need the coffee just to feel normal.

Exercise is different, at least in my experience. If you keep the intensity moderately high, your body never really "gets used to it".

I exercise for about an hour every day - half aerobic, half strength training. Even though some days it's hard to fit it into my schedule, I hate skipping my workout because I don't want to miss the benefits.

When you exercise consistently, your sleep improves, your body gets more efficient at using oxygen, and your heart works less hard. And even though a workout can make you tired at the time, in the long run your mental and physical energy usually increases.

If you're not on an exercise program, talk to your doctor to see what he/she thinks. Even a daily 20-minute walk can give you an energy boost, if you're healthy enough to do it.

Feb 03, 2013
by: MC

No, Doug, I don't mind but I'm sure you know every brain injury is different and many people, including myself, have had brain injuries and never realized it.

All parts of my brain were injured but dead mass is on left side more towards front... the biggest problem is no energy. For that I get Adderall and Provigil. Also without Exelon, I am much more stupid... hard to even add or subtract.

Doug's Reply. Thanks, MC. I agree, every case is different, but I was curious.

I think I'll read up on those medications. You never know, some TBI patients who visit this site might want to ask their doctor about those meds, in case they might help. As always, it's up to the doctor to decide.

Feb 03, 2013
Memory Meds for Middle Aged--Elderly?
by: MC

I am always interested in finding ways to improve since TBI in 2005. I feel very sorry for Robert since he has gone through his whole life with such an awful problem.

When I finally found a GOOD brain doctor to see, he told me there was medicine for every complaint! My first doctor said, "There's no medicine for brain injury... just time." He was so wrong!

What I have often wondered, when I talk to almost everyone over 50, wouldn't the same meds that help me with memory help them?

Doug's Reply. MC, which medications did your doctor prescribe, if you don't mind my asking?

Jan 23, 2013
Your Memory Problems
by: Douglas J. (MIT)

Robert, it is interesting indeed that your Mum never discussed the full story of your accident and recovery.

There is perhaps no way to ever know for certain, but the impact from a car that was no doubt traveling at significant speed (the driver not knowing you would appear from behind the bus) was possibly quite severe. Obviously, as attested by the cut on your face, your head impacted the pavement or perhaps some object including the car itself.

I'm not suggesting any brain procedure was performed on you by surgeons while in hospital, but your story does remind me of the case of a famous brain injury patient named "H.M." (known to be Henry Molaison, since his passing in 2008).

Previously a normal child, Henry at age 7 hit his head in a bicycle accident. Subsequently he was plagued by periodic severe seizures, to the degree that surgeons ultimately decided to remove part of his temporal-side brain tissue in an attempt to diminish or eliminate the attacks.

Unfortunately for Henry, during the operation the surgeon also removed part of Henry's hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for the formation of new memories. Thenceforth, for the rest of his life, Henry was unable to form new semantic (information-based) memories.

For example, Henry could be introduced to you and interact normally, but if you returned the following day he would have no recollection of ever having met you.

Molaison's case was extreme to be sure. But it leaves one wondering whether you might in fact have suffered some brain damage in the car accident which was never properly diagnosed and treated. Or if it was, you weren't told.

Today there are cognitive tests that can help determine the extent, and sometimes the origins, of brain deficits including memory loss. As a starting point, a Neuropsychological Evaluation (as I mention in my answer to Morgan's memory loss post) might shed light on your condition, should you wish to pursue a definitive answer.

This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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