By On July 2nd, 2014

A Tale of Psychosurgery and Amnesia

phrenologyI normally would have passed over reading this blog, but the subject caught my eye about  psychosurgery and amnesia, so I began to read an excerpt from Sam Kean’s new book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, which I found on longreads.com. The story is fascinating in terms of an unfortunate surgical discovery of the role of the hippocampus in memory.

The story begins in the 1930’s with a young boy who has a bicycling accident and develops frequent seizures. Sometime in the 1940’s he was referred to William Scoville, MD, a neurosurgeon who had refined his practice of lobotomies to what he termed “fractional lobotomies” which created  smaller lesions and, in his opinion, were less damaging to the person’s personality. Dr. Scoville performed a procedure on this young man in 1953 in which he removed the hippocampus. The seizure problems were significantly reduced but the residual effects of the operation was a total loss of memory, a blunting of the young man’s personality and periodic rage attacks. He lost his job and was taken care of by his parents in their home for years. He could mow the lawn, but he didn’t know where the lawn mower was kept. There were very few tasks he could access from his memory. Scoville told Wilder Penfield, MD, a noted brain researcher of his time, of the results of the hippocampal surgery. Following Penfield’s initial tirade, he calmed down and suggested that Scoville have the young man followed through neuropsychological assessments.

Scoville’s patient died in 2008 at the age of 82. He resided in a nursing home in the years since his parent’s became unable to care for him and later died. His amnestic syndrome is well documented as are other aspects of his life which has given  us insight into the role of the hippocampus in formulating memory as well as the importance of memory in our ability to live our lives with independence.

I’m sure to read Sam Kean’s book as I find stories like this fascinating and I thought that readers of NeuroNotes might also want to know about the book.

Click here to read the longreads blog.


Taglines: William Scoville, Wilder Penfield, hippocampus, memory, psychosurgery, Sam Kean, The Tale of Dueling Nuerosurgeons, surgery-for-epilepsy, lobotomy, fractional lobotomies

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