Saturday, 22 March 2014

Recovered memory after general anaesthetic

It's widely known that a general anaesthetic can put your health at risk if you are elderly or have dementia.  But I've read about several mostly elderly people who have come round from a general anaesthetic to find that they have recovered their memory and are able to talk coherently about their past lives in a way that they previously had been unable to do.

This state usually lasts for a few hours and then they revert to how they were before the general anaesthetic.  The carer of one person reported that this happened more than once, i.e. on different occasions.

Obviously, people have questioned professionals about this remarkable development. The response seems to be an acknowledgement that this can happen but no-one seems prepared to try to explain it.

You might think that this is a phenomenon that would be the subject of extensive research.  It isn't.  This is probably because, according to the usual theories about the damage to the brain which dementia causes, this should not be possible and we have already noted that these ubiquitous theories are rarely questioned anyway.

I am particularly fascinated because, as my wife's dementia developed, it seemed clear that the problem was one of not being able to access the memories rather than that the memories had been destroyed.  From what I've read this is not always the case.

It may be that, in cases like my wife's, some, many or all of the memories are still locked away in her brain somewhere but the person can't find the key.  If research could uncover what it is about a general anaesthetic that brings about the recovery of memories, there could be hope for at least some people living with dementia.

One possibility that has been proposed, by someone living with dementia as it happens, is that oxygen might be the key as people who are anaesthetised are given oxygen.

It would be great if someone would fund research into the phenomenon.  But I'm not holding my breath.

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