Feeds

Could Drew Barrymore's memory loss in 50 First Dates really happen?

Boy meets girl, girl loses memory, boy gets girl

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

(Asked by Nikki Long of Waltham, Massachusetts)

In the romantic comedy film 50 First Dates (2004) starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, Barrymore’s character suffers short-term memory loss as a result of a head injury in a traffic accident. Each morning she wakes up without any memories whatsoever of anything that happened after her accident. Sandler’s character falls in love with Barrymore. very day he must persuade her to fall in love with him.

In the film, Barrymore is told by her neurologist, played by Dan Aykroyd, she suffers from “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. The problem is that there is no “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. Hollywood invented the name although this form of short-term memory loss certainly exists. According to Dr. Catherine Myers of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the film conflates two real memory loss syndromes.

The first is Organic Amnesia (OA). This is short-term memory loss due to brain injury. The most obvious symptom is rapid forgetting. New information fades from memory within a few minutes. Old memories, such as those from childhood, are retained as well as they are in people normally. In OA, the brain damage is permanent, so is the syndrome.

The second is Psychogenic Amnesia (sometimes called Traumatic Amnesia) (PA). This is the loss of one’s identity and personal history without obvious brain injury. It is believed that PA results from psychological stress (for example, traumatic events). PA is exceedingly rare. Some researchers question whether it even exists at all given the fact that some patients may fake amnesia to avoid personal difficulties and many patients suddenly recover all their past memories. However, some patients never recover past memories and have to start new lives with new identities.

Dr Myers points out that there is a third "general class of amnesia" sometimes called “Limited Retrograde Amnesia” (LRA). LRA is a temporary loss of the ability to store new memories as a result of brain injury. For example, a person in a car crash may hit their head and lose memories of the few minutes before and after the crash. This commonly happens to boxers, football players, and others who engage in contact sports where they may suffer a blow to the head. Dr Myers says that LRA is not particularly life-impairing since old memories are fine as is the ability to form new memories - only the limited period is lost forever.

50 First Dates is a bit of a departure from the usual Hollywood motif of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Instead, boy meets girl, girl loses memory, boy gets girl. It could happen, but there’s no “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. Dr Myers adds that “If there ever was a Dr Goldfield, he obviously didn’t publish his syndrome in the correct journals!”

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.