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

Security for virtualized datacentres

(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

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.