In what is thought to be a very unusual outbreak, doctors in the Boston area have found a cluster of patients each suffering from a rare form of amnesia. What started as four patients has grown to 14 just in the Boston area. Each of these patients is suffering from anterograde amnesia.
Anterograde amnesia is a type of amnesia where a patient can recall things earlier in their life, but they no longer have the ability to form any new memories. These people are generally living in 30 second increments because anything longer than that is quickly forgotten. The first of these patients was discovered in 2012 and the following patients have been diagnosed between 2012 and 2016.
What is really surprising is that each of these patients show damage to their hippocampus region of the brain. MRI’s taken of each patient show that there is absolutely no blood flow to either area of the hippocampus in each patient’s brain. This part of the brain has long been associated with memories.
Is There A Connection?
Doctor’s began diligently to search for any connections between the patients. At first look, each patient came from different medical, financial, and ethnic backgrounds. All the patients were in different age groups, and there was an equal representation between males and females suffering from the disorder.
The only correlation that doctors can find is that each of the people suffering from the disorder are associated with opiate use. Only one of the patients has not been directly connected to opiate use, and that is only because they were not tested for the substance at the time.
Opiates are found in many prescription pain killers. They are also the base for some illegal drugs like heroin. The study did not release the information on what types of opiates the patients were using. However, it was implied that the opiates being used were prescription medications, but it was not determined if they were prescribed or purchased illegally.
More Studies Are Needed
Researchers and doctors have two main concerns with this study. First, they are concerned that this may be a new side effect of continued prescription pain killer use. They are further worried that if people are mxing their prescription pain killers, or obtaining them illegally when purity cannot be verified, that this damage to the brain and resulting amnesia is the long term effect of these habits.
The second main concern that researchers have is that this is not a new phenomenon. Since this disorder is connected to opiate use, they are wondering if people in the past have suffered from this disorder and people simply overlooked the problem as an effect of a person being “high.”
At this time researchers are reaching out to doctors and hospitals across the United States to see if they have any similar cases of amnesia occurring in their areas. This will help researchers determine if it is a trend specific to the Boston area, or if it is wide spread. Until they have that answer, all they can do is monitor potential cases as they happen in the Boston area.