Marriage with Retrograde Amnesia

Although my memory of my loved ones has never failed me, the same cannot be said for many people. Gita Nandi, an 81-year-old wife and retired doctor is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, leading to retrograde amnesia. Gita’s symptoms began by being unable to remember what she had done the same day, and eventually worsened until she did not recognize her loved ones, and could remember no details about her wedding day with her husband, Pabitra. Retrograde amnesia is the brain being unable to remember anything from the past, which can lead to a loss of identity for many people.

Even as Gita lost her memories, Pabitra did not give up on his wife. After discussion with Gita’s doctor, he decided to recreate every detail of their wedding day, 55 years later, so that Gita could have a few more hours to remember their wedding. While the method of savings may have allowed Gita to remember the details from 55 years ago if she did not have Alzheimer’s, she unfortunately does. Gita was able to experience her wedding as if it were happening for the first time, making it all the more precious of a memory, even if it would be brief.

This article focuses on Pabitra’s attempts to “make” his wife remember her life, leading it to create a sense of hope by leaving out the scientific details of the retrograde amnesia that accompanies Alzheimer’s. This may lead people to believe that the “best” course of action when a loved one suffers from retrograde amnesia is to recreate memories until the method of savings works, which is not the case. The method of savings states that after learning (or doing) something once and then doing it again later, it will be learned faster the second time. However, Alzheimer’s causes changes to the brain itself, so the feeling of, “Oh yeah! I have seen/done this before” once you have a preview of what “this” is will no longer occur.

While I have no criticism for the article’s research (because there was none), I believe that by not including any, people who have no prior knowledge of retrograde amnesia may be given unrealistic hopes about their loved ones remembering a person, day, or detail if they are reminded about it enough times, which may not be the case, especially if it is in the later stages of the disease. Additionally, the article states that Pabitra talked to Gita’s doctor before recreating the memory, so it would have been helpful for people facing similar situations to know why the doctor thought it would be a good idea. One possible explanation would be that it would temporarily return Gita’s identity, which was likely being lost as her memories were.

These recreated memories will serve just like new ones, since the amnesia does not allow the older memories to be recalled. I myself thought “aww” when I read this article, but I cannot help but wonder if recreating memories benefits the person with retrograde amnesia more, or the person trying to “make” them remember. Nobody wants to forget the best day(s) of their life, but nobody wants to remember those days alone when the person they shared the memories with is sitting in front of them.

Research has allowed us to develop medications that lesson the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss, at all stages of the disease, there is not yet a cure, and we are unable to prevent it from progressing. Once someone has progressed the point where they cannot recognize the people they spent their entire lives with, such as family members, they will unfortunately be unable to restore all of their lost memories, which Pabitra seems to be attempting by recreating several memories, including their wedding. This is shown in the image below, showing that when a person suffers from Alzheimer’s, their hippocampus, which deals with long-term memory, shrinks, making them physically unable to restore their memories from a visual reminder.

Image from Good Morning Center

I cannot begin to imagine what I would do if my spouse of five decades suddenly did not remember the entire life we shared together, but I would likely be willing to do anything if I thought it might cause him to remember something about our past. Articles such as these will always give me the thought of “that’s true love,” but they should also provide more information about the diseases people hear so much about, but know little of. I believe that when we know our loved ones are at the end of their lives, we should do everything we can to put a smile on their face every day, like Pabitra does, but we should also be careful that we are expecting more of our loved ones than they are capable of. The prominent emotion should be love at the end of someone’s life, not disappointment.

2 thoughts on “Marriage with Retrograde Amnesia

  1. Emily Busbee

    This article reminded me a lot of the movie 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler in it. This girl had Anterograde Amnesia, and so she was unable to create any new memories. Adam Sandler was interested in this girl, and so he came to her every day and took her on a date, in hopes that eventually she would begin to remember who she was. In reality this is extremely unlikely that she would ever remember him, since the days would just never be processed into the girl’s long term memory, but it is a nice thought and makes for a good movie. I agree though, I could never imagine waking up one day and my spouse of so long could not remember who I was.

    1. swong Post author

      I unfortunately just realized that I used the word “anterograde” when I meant “retrograde!” I fixed my mistakes (and am really thankful you commented before this assignment was due – thank you!)

      However, I have seen that movie and think the scenarios are very similar, even though they are different types of amnesia. The female partner in both cases is unable to remember the times they had with their significant other, and I think that the video tape Adam Sandler makes to tell her about her life each morning is similar to Pabitra recreating Gita’s memories. In both cases, the woman was able to regain a sense of self, at least temporarily, which I’m sure made everyone happier, even if they did not remember those actual moments first-hand.

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