New Research May Help Patients with Memory Loss from Brain Injuries

Article excerpt

Byline: Anne McIlroy Toronto Globe and Mail

Elianne Parent was on her way to celebrate her 18th birthday with friends when a drunken driver smashed into their car.

She suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and drifted in and out of a two-month coma. When she finally emerged, it was as if the first 18 years of her life had melted into the huge pool of liquid that had claimed a large area in the right hemisphere of her brain.

She didn't recognize her mother, father or brother and had no recollection of her childhood near Montreal. She had a rare case of total retrograde amnesia, as well as serious difficulty processing new memories and information. While she slowly came to know her family, she couldn't recall events that occurred even 15 minutes earlier.

Now, thanks to an experimental treatment being tested at Laval University in Quebec City, Can. her ability to store and access new memories has dramatically improved. She's even had a few glimpses of her life before the accident.

"Some were about my ex-boyfriend, although I had others as well. It was the first time I remembered anything about my life before the accident. They felt real," said Parent, who will turn 21 in May.

She no longer needs to be reintroduced to someone she met half an hour earlier, as she did the day she first encountered Cyril Schneider, the researcher she has been working with.

Parent had already come a long way by the time she met Schneider in April of last year. During two years of intensive rehabilitation, the determined young woman learned how to walk again, and to feed and dress herself. But the past continued to elude her.

The family was told that the "official" rehab was over, but her mother, Jocelyne Parent, was determined to help her daughter continue to improve.

An acquaintance told her about Schneider, a neurophysiologist at Laval who is investigating whether stimulating the brain with repetitive, precise magnetic signals can help stroke patients overcome some kinds of brain damage, even years later. …