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90 minute memory: How William reminds us of movie characters?

Amnesia is a syndrome caused due to brain dysfunction from damage, mental trauma or disease. Existing in two different forms – retrograde and anterograde, amnesia means “memory loss” in basic sense of the word.

Retrograde amnesia means the incapability to remember events before a particular incident while anterograde means the incapability to remember events after a particular incident.

Over the years, amnesia has been a celebrated theme in the movies both in Bollywood and Hollywood. We saw the victimized character(s) adopting exciting ways to help them carry on with their lives.

In the most recent discovery by a new case study, researchers from Leicester and Northampton Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust illustrated the “never before seen” real-life version of amnesia, anterograde in this case, in a Briton namely William, whose “simple” root-canal surgery left him with a 90-minute memory duration since March, 2005.

His wife, who has been the primary source of his coping business with the new memories, has been taking the help of an electronic diary, more specifically William’s smartphone to help him remember things.

In this context, let us take the comparison between William and all the movie characters that we’ve seen on screen, enacting an amnesiac patient.

The 2000 hit film, “Memento” featured an anterograde amnesiac patient who sets out on a venture to find the murderer of his wife. He is well aware of his shortcoming, but doesn’t let that ruin his mission as he takes the help of Polaroid pictures, notes that he writes down right away and tattoos.

It’s interesting that the biggest selling amnesia related movie of Bollywood, “Ghajini” in fact has quite a similar theme as that of Memento with Aamir Khan resorting to same options of Polaroid photos and tattoos to remember events. Nevertheless, his mission was also to find those men who murdered his fiancée.

Ghajini_HindiIn another movie based on anterograde amnesia, which was in fact a romance-comedy the family of the victim is seen duplicating events that happened on the day the former suffered an accident that caused her to develop amnesia.

If you guessed the movie to be “50 First Dates,” then you’re absolutely right. The Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, starred 2004 hit saw Barrymore enact the part of an amnesia patient who has been re-living October 13 for the past one year.

In this movie, Drew Barrymore who enacted the role of Lucy Whitmore saw her father and brother do everything – painting the walls white, making pie, and putting out October 13’s newspaper every day instead of trying to help her remember new things. However, once she meets Henry played by Adam Sandler he makes it his life’s mission to help her remember new events. He makes a video comprising of the pictures from her accident and what all she missed the past one year, besides telling her every day that they are together.

William’s wife follows quite a similar path like Henry to help the former remember the new events. She writes down important notes on his smartphone titled “First thing – read this,” as reported by BBC News. William has been thriving on this procedure for the past decade without which he still wakes up every morning thinking it’s March 14, 2005 and he is in Germany as a military officer.

Dr. Gerald Burgess, the lead author of William’s case study paper along with Dr. Bhanu Chadalavada is still in the process of understanding how William ended up having anterograde amnesia from a routine dental checkup alike Lucy’s doctor in 50 First Dates.

The only positive development that Lucy in reel-life and William in real life experienced was remembering new events in dreams and increasing the memory span from 10-minutes to 90-minutes, respectively.

Like the movie ended, leaving us in anticipation of what might happen in the future and how long can Henry carry on to make his wife (Lucy) remember new events, the real-life case of William also triggers the same anticipation is us.

William’s case study was published in the journal Neurocase.

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