The Neuropsychology of Degenerative Brain Diseases

By Robert G. Knight | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
KORSAKOFT'S DISEASE

Jim is a retired sawmiller. He never married, and he has lived and worked all over the country. He is 62 years old now and he spends most of his time sitting and smoking. He rarely asks questions and seldom spontaneously volunteers anything much. He likes a game of pool, but most of the time he seems content with his own company. Jim can be readily engaged in conversation. He describes his life as a sawmiller and recounts stories from his war service. He is always willing to be involved in psychological testing or experimental sessions, but displays no great interest in what he is being asked to do. On first acquaintance there is nothing remarkable about him at all; he seems out of place in one of the long-stay wards of a psychiatric hospital.

It is only when he is asked about his present life that his difficulties become obvious. He seems not to know the names of any of the other people in the hospital dayroom, even though he has shared a dormitory with some of them for several years. "People come and go here" he says "it's not worth learning their names." When asked, he is unable to give the name of the charge nurse who has been working on the ward since Jim was admitted three years ago, although "it is on the tip of his tongue". In fact, Jim can remember very little of what has happened since he came to the hospital; indeed he has almost no recollection of things that have happened over the past 15 years. Although he watches television every evening he is unable to name any of the programs he has seen, nor does he have any knowledge of current affairs. If he were to leave the room for just a few minutes in the middle of a psychological test, on his return he is most likely to have completely forgotten what he was doing and to deny ever having seen the test materials before. In short, his capacity to learn anything new seems to have almost totally vanished. Surprisingly, Jim never complains of having a poor memory. When his inability to

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