Rethinking Brain Disorders and Amnesia
Half a million Canadians and 35 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer’s disease or related forms of dementia. These numbers are expected to increase substantially in coming years, and they cause tremendous societal and economic burdens.
Improving treatment for memory disorders requires deeper understanding of how memory is organized in healthy brains and how this organization deteriorates due to aging or brain damage. It has long been known that damage to the medial temporal lobe (MTL) of the brain causes amnesia. But it is not known how this happens.
Dr. Morgan Barense, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, has discovered that, contrary to longstanding beliefs, the MTL is not related only to memory, but to perception as well. Therefore, if a stimulus is not perceived correctly by the brain, it can not be stored and retrieved correctly. What may be considered as a memory problem may actually be a problem of perception. Even the definition of amnesia as loss of memory may be inaccurate, or—at least, incomplete.
Barense is clarifying how memory and perception break down in memory disorders, and is developing a new theory of amnesia. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, she aims to demonstrate that the MTL is related to memory and perception—and that damage to the area will cause problems with both memory and perception. Barense will also apply these techniques to brain-damaged individuals.
Barense’s research will provide a new window into memory loss, and could lead to new treatments for memory disorders.