Developmental Amnesia

Session Date: 
Oct 11, 2019

In modern humans, an exquisite cognitive ability has evolved that enables ‘mental time travel’, viz: the ability to mentally travel back in time and re-experience a personal event from the past that is no longer physically present.  This unique human ability, referred to as ‘episodic memory’, has a protracted trajectory, first emerging around the age of 3 or 4 when children begin to recalltheir past memories.  The late emergence of episodic memory, in contrast to the very early appearance of language and semantic memory, is attributed to the slow maturation of its neural substrate, the hippocampus, a subcortical structure that is widely regarded as the hub of the memory circuit.  

In this presentation, I will describe how certain neonatal or early childhood pathological events, most commonly hypoxic/ischaemic episodes, target the immature hippocampus, leading to the later emergence of the syndrome of Developmental Amnesia, often without evidence of any neurological or other cognitive impairment. Yet, this selective episodic amnesia interferes profoundly with the acquisition of a chronological autobiography, recall of personal events of daily living, planning for the future, and development of self-esteem and quality of life, ultimately precluding independence in adulthood.