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The History of Amnesia—a Review

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Abstract

Purpose of Review

This review traces amnesia’s history from its earliest eighteenth century classification as a medical disorder to the present. Sophisticated depictions in the nineteenth century literature containing elaborate compilations of causal factors, including neurologic, consider pathogenesis, course, duration, durability, and temporal features.

Recent Findings

Severe amnesia, especially anterograde involving new learning, found archetypal expression in the twentieth century, in the case of H.M. The “pure” amnesia confirmed an independent memory disorder distinct from other cognitive disturbances, with functional dissociations illustrating nuanced manifestations and highlighting the role of some discovered structural correlates (e.g., hippocampal and associated MTL regions). Moreover, neural networks and interconnections have also notably been implicated.

Summary

Although concepts of illness change across cultures and centuries, portrayal of amnesia remained consistent as it spread internationally. Amnesia’s groundbreaking original nosology laid a foundation for contemporary paradigms of the multifactorial nature, specificity, and complexity of a poignantly thought-provoking disorder.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Acknowledgements

Professor Julien Bogousslavsky graciously invited and inspired prior thinking on this topic. NYU Division of Libraries: W. Gerald Heverly provided instrumental guidance on Classic sources and translations from Greek; Michael Agnew prior provided the translations of Italian, Latin, and Spanish text and invaluable guidance regarding historical sources; NYU HSL: Richard McGowan provided expert reference research assistance; Elena Vassilkioti provided helpful historical document procurement; David DeSimone provided much helpful reference support. Ms. Arlene Shaner, NYAM Library, provided guidance on historical collections. Thoughtful support of Ms. Elaine Ruth has been appreciated. The kind inspiration of Andre Langer is gratefully acknowledged.

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Langer, K.G. The History of Amnesia—a Review. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 21, 40 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-021-01126-x

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