‘Photographic memory’ of an 18-year-old with memory loss
Rosie Paley, 18, suffered traumatic memory loss due to a common infection, herpes simplex, which can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). She now has a ‘photographic memory’, in the sense that she needs to have photographs around to remind her of things she should remember anyway.
With her photos, she manages to ‘remember’ her earlier life and the friends she made growing up. Without them, she barely remembers, or even recognises, her own two brothers, Rhys (4) and two-year-old Ollie, and didn’t even recognise her own mother when she was first struck by the condition.
– in the form of Rosie’s memory board
The pictures she’s referring to are photographs of family and friends, and events from her own past, that help her remember key events and people.
Positive attitude is the key
Her positive attitude helps her through what is an ongoing nightmare. “Life is now about making new memories,” she says, “It’s like I’m starting from the beginning”. Rosie, from Brierly Hill, Birmingham, can’t remember anything from before the infection took hold. The effects have been dramatic:
Medical experts reckon there are something like 4,000 new cases of herpes simplex in the UK each year, the infection more usually responsible for cold sores and chicken pox. Obviously though, it doesn’t result in such traumatic consequences, except in very rare instances.
She didn’t even recognise her own mother
Rosie’s mother, Helen, says she was heartbroken when Rosie first woke up after the fit she suffered due to the infection, looked at her, and said “Who are you?” Rosie was upset and confused, and asked for her favourite cuddly toy, Baa Lamb, from when she was a little girl. It was one of the few things she could still remember.
Today, two years after the illness that changed her life, Rosie is dependent on her ‘photographic memory’ board, dotted with pictures of family and friends, and events from her past.
Never take your memory for granted
We all take our memory for granted, at least most of the time, and any thought of traumatic memory loss is just a nightmare that hasn’t happened yet. But the stark truth is it could happen to anyone, at any time, even through a simple infection like herpes simplex.
It’s highly unlikely that we should suffer such dramatic memory loss, of course, and we should be thankful for that. But the fact is that the brain is such a delicate organ, and easily affected. It’s sobering to reflect just how easily its priceless contents and abilities can be damaged, or even lost forever.
Perhaps we should be more grateful for the gift of memory, and less eager to complain if it doesn’t always perform perfectly and dependably, every single time. We all want to improve our memory, which is understandable (and would probably jump at the chance of having a photographic memory, if we could), but I guess the first step is to become fully aware what a wonderful gift it is, even in its present state.
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