Organic Amnesia Case Study

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Long-term memory (LTM) consists of two categories namely episodic memory (EM) and semantic memory (SM). SM is the general knowledge that we understand about the world around us, such as facts, beliefs or concepts, devoid of autobiographical details. Cases of organic amnesia assist us in understanding how memory functions, though it is well established that EM and SM are separate systems within LTM (Tulving, 1972). It is less well established if SM can be divided into functionally separate aspects such as with regard to musical ability, as musical ability has been found intact in severe cases of organic amnesia. This study seeks to discover if musical SM is functionally separate by inducing pharmacological amnesia in pianists and
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Whether or not a distinction exists between non-musical and musical memory domains is still disputed. Patient PM, a professional cellist developed severe amnesia, his SM and EM demonstrating profound deficits, remained able to sight-read and perform the cello (Finke, Esfahani & Ploner, 2012. Likewise Hailstone, Omar and Warren (2009) found preserved musical knowledge in their case study of a patient with semantic dementia, suggesting a distinction of musical SM from other forms.

One difficulty of the study is in the analysis of the results. Results must be analysed using accuracy rather than speed as any delay between notes in the musical condition may be due to the sedative effect of Midazolam, which may slow movement.

Further research into any possible structural and functional differences exist using fMRI, as well as if degree of musical knowledge produces differing levels of preservation of semantic knowledge. Considerations should also be taken as to whether preservation of musical SM, may be able to enhance quality of life in amnesiacs and similarly those with dementia, not just by decreasing agitation and acting as therapeutic support, but also by aiding them in everyday non-musical

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