Helping people with amnesia to live a normal life can be a daunting task. It requires patience and lots of observation of behavior. In The Last Hippie, Dr Sack presents the case of Greg F. Greg was a patient who had severe anterograde amnesia caused by damage to his temporal lobe systems and the diencephalon. Anterograde amnesia is the inability to form new memories. The afflicted individual is unable to place new information into long-term memory but the long-term memories present before the tumor or injury remain undamaged. This may occur after an injury or brain tumor. In Greg’s case, it was caused by a brain tumor which had damaged his frontal lobe and pituitary gland, resulting in hair loss and weight gain. In addition, he was usually blank and never alert. He had also become visually impaired. However, perhaps the most disturbing observation was his amnesia. To help him through it, Dr. Sack had applied different strategies without much success. This paper presents different strategies in which Greg could be treated, while examining Dr. Sack’s methods.
There are several approaches to treating amnesia. Some cases of amnesia may resolve themselves without treatment but in Greg’s case, the underlying damage to the frontal lobe complicates treatment. The frontal lobe is responsible for the storage of short-term memory which is then transferred to long-term memory. Despite the damage to his frontal lobe the short span of short-term memory that Greg forms may be used. First, Dr Sack’s approach of having Greg recite some information may help him keep in touch with the present reality, while grasping the passage of time and remembering history (Guise 1). To improve this approach, it may be useful to include a motivational jingle which can remind Greg that he needs to remember certain things. Jingles used should be progress from simple ones to fairly complex ones to determine whether there is a component of improvement in how well Greg can memorize them. Since Dr. Sack had observed that Greg had the capacity for reflection and thought, reciting a jingle about his memory would give him the impetus to try and remember. This would also be the basis of helping him build an artificial framework for thought. He would be encouraged to engage in structure thinking which can help him join the dots and discover information without having to remember it (Guise 1). This may be achieved through simple puzzles or games. New research indicates that while anterograde amnesia may often damages facts, memory and events, it leaves some skills and habits intact. This means that a patient may be taught new skills such as writing backwards or playing a new game. Although the memory of the training session may quickly be lost, the patient will still be able to execute the instructions taught previously. This may be an indication that some memory has been retained. Although it is not clear which kinds of memory can be retained in this way, this approach may be used in the rehabilitation of anterograde amnesiacs and may be the key to an important breakthrough not only for Greg but also for other patients.
Secondly, Greg can use reminders. These reminders would be about dates or times to do certain tasks, take medications etc. The reminders can also be about information about him. Since he is visually impaired, the best type of reminders would be audio recordings. He would replay the reminders every time he needed to remember something. These are known as compensatory devices and require active participation of the patient and their support circle. This may be used on Greg. Just as Greg is able to remember the jingle or the instructions employed in a particular game, the use of audio reminders will enable him to start to retain new information about himself and his surroundings. It may be a slow process but with patience, he will gain and retain new memories. Other techniques may be geared more towards rehabilitation. These may include speech, and other reality orientation techniques. Occupational therapy can help Greg maintain a routine. Memorizing a daily routine can help Greg come to terms with the present.
Thirdly, anterograde amnesiacs such as Greg may be assisted through an appropriate diet and lots of love and care to help him live comfortably (Healthdrip.com 1). Greg should eat a diet rich in “brain food” that boosts memory. This may include almonds, cumin, apples, sage and so on. Since Greg shows a capacity for melancholic thought, he should be encouraged to overcome the feeling of self-loathing that may affect him. This may include the use of a professional counselor as well as family members to offer him emotional support. This would help him live a happy life even with the memory failure (Healthdrip.com 1).
The fourth approach that I would apply to Greg is that of music. This is because he shows a positive response to it which may be used to reach out to his memory and make him happier. Any physical activity that Greg can perform on his own should be applied in a cognitive sense to reach out to him. His guitar playing skills may be applied to teach him new songs. By learning how to play new songs, he exercises his memory at retaining guitar chords and strumming patterns. This may bring to attention his inability to remember certain things, resulting in an effort from him to recall various things. Through music, he may be able to relate to the present times and help him overcome the state of always being stuck in the sixties.
Since Greg cannot see, it would be helpful to have him use other senses such as smell or taste to communicate or receive information. For example, Greg should be exposed to different scents. An instructor should let him know the smells he is experiencing. He should then be asked to name the different scents for a second time. Alternatively, he may be asked to taste different foods and asked to name them. This may help him exercise the small fraction of his memory that may still be intact.
Greg F. may be helped through his anterograde amnesia by applied different approaches. First, some of Dr. Sack’s methods may be used. Helping Greg recite some information may help him keep in touch with the present reality, while grasping the passage of time and remembering history. This may be through jingles that help him create a thinking framework. This may be done through puzzles and games. Secondly, he can use audio reminders to help him keep track of events. Thirdly, dietary measures may aid his memory. This includes consumption of “brain foods” such as almonds, cumin, apples, sage and so on. By learning new songs on the guitar, he would exercise his memory through practical tasks. Fifth, through sensory tasks that involve smell and scent, he can be encouraged to work his memory. These are some of the approaches which may improve Greg’s life as an amnesiac.
Guise, Elaine de. "Amnesia." International Encyclopedia of rehabilitation 3.2 (2008): 1-10. Print.
Healthdrip.com. "Anterograde amnesia treatment." Health Encyclopedia. Version 1. Health Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2014. <http://healthdrip.com/anterograde-amnesia-treatment/>.