Living with SDAM: Woman Has No Episodic Memory, Can't Relive Events of Past

By Branswell, Helen | The Canadian Press, April 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

Living with SDAM: Woman Has No Episodic Memory, Can't Relive Events of Past


Branswell, Helen, The Canadian Press


Living with SDAM means living without memories

--

TORONTO - When Susie McKinnon was a child, she had a stock answer when anyone asked if she remembered an event in her life.

"Not really," McKinnon, now 60, would reply.

McKinnon has no episodic memory. She can't form memories about events in her life, or relive her past by calling up images of bygone times.

The condition is called severely deficient autobiographical memory, or SDAM, a name devised by researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Toronto's Baycrest Health Sciences Centre, who have studied McKinnon and two other people with similar memory deficits.

The Baycrest team recently published on the newly described condition in the medical journal Neuropsychologia.

McKinnon has been told she was a bit of an eccentric kid -- a tomboy who read the encyclopedia for fun.

McKinnon knows these facts about herself only because she's been told them and has committed them to memory.

In an interview, she says she only realized her memory was different when she was 21 or so. Because she couldn't replay mental movies of her past, she made up stories, often embroidering details -- some erroneous -- on tales she had heard her parents or her brothers tell, or using family photos as a jumping off point.

A friend who was studying to be a physician's assistant had an assignment to devise a quiz to detect early signs of dementia and needed someone to test it on. McKinnon's responses struck her as unusual, prompting McKinnon to start asking others if they actually remembered episodes of their past.

She was flabbergasted by the replies.

"I just assumed everyone was making up stories, because I certainly was," she says, adding she thought this was an accepted part of social interaction.

"You just think up funny little stories and just keep telling them over and over again. And that makes them true for you."

Her semantic memory -- the part that allows her to learn facts -- is fine. …

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