George Metz’s Brain Story is an encouraging one: despite suffering from amnesia from an early age, George has led a successful, independent life. George spoke to the United Brain Association (UBA) about the challenges of living with amnesia and the many accomplishments he has achieved despite the condition’s limitations.
Life with Amnesia – Diagnosis and Challenges
George tells UBA that he has dealt with memory loss all his life. However, atatt age 92, his inability to recall certain events or names is not due to aging, but to amnesia, which Johns Hopkins Medicine defines as: “a general term for a syndrome that involves substantial difficulty learning and retaining new information.”
While many of us experience moments of forgetfulness, such as failing to recall a person’s name or items on a grocery list, amnesia, also known as amnestic syndrome, results from physical factors such as injury, infection, or brain trauma. Damage from such factors triggers memory loss and can result in temporary or permanent amnesia. The diagnostic process for amnesia involves a comprehensive evaluation to rule out other possible causes of memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, depression, or in some cases, a brain tumor.
In cases of temporary amnesia, those suffering may eventually regain lost memories and experience the ability to create new ones. However, in George’s case, and for others who experience persistent amnesia, memory loss may be permanent. There is no cure for amnesia; instead, treatment options focus on helping people with the condition develop coping strategies such as memory tools. Writing has been an effective tool for George to combat his memory loss, along with living a simple lifestyle.
When we asked George how he thinks his participation in the United Brain Association’s Brain Story initiative will help others, he said: “I believe my story is an example of how someone with extreme memory problems could still manage to have a successful life despite these problems.”
What has the biggest challenge been in living with amnesia?
While experiences and symptoms vary from patient to patient, common symptoms of amnesia include the inability to recall information, events, or people,; difficulty recalling past events,; and difficulty remembering new information or events. George told the UBA that he would have liked to hone new skills such as playing a musical instrument or learning a foreign language, but his condition made these impossible. George’s amnesia, however, has placed some even bigger restrictions on this life: he has been unable to learn how to handle money or use a smartphone. Despite his amnesia, George had found joy in singing until recently when his voice began to fail.
“My advice would be to find something that could be done using skills that you have and not to worry about those which you do not have. Always remember that there will always be things that you wish you could remember, but you do have an advantage over people who have a lot of things that they would like to forget.”
Life with amnesia for George means he has no memories from his childhood or early adolescent years. He can’t recall his seven years of service in the Air Force, his collegiate career, his four marriages, or the 42 years he spent working as an engineer. He tells the UBA, “I have two children but remember almost nothing of their childhood.”
“Most people live a life made up of two parts. One is the present, and the other is their memories. Little of my life has anything to do with memories.”
Before retiring at the age of 73, George had worked for the same company for more than 30 years. Within months following his retirement, George struggled to recall the names of people he had worked with. “Several times after that, I would meet someone I had worked with daily for as long as 20 years, and I recognized the person, but I did not know their name or where I had known them,” George says.
For George, very few triggers help recall memories that may otherwise be lost due to his amnesia. He tells the UBA, “My last marriage lasted 45 years. My wife passed away in 2018. If you were to ask me how often something happens in my experience since my wife passed away, which reminds me of her, my answer would be almost never.”
Seeking Treatment – Coming to Terms with Amnesia
Over the years, George has undergone various treatment options including sessions with several psychologists, psychiatrists, and non-professional counselors. He has also sought help from hypnotherapists and spiritual counselors. George has been proactive in his pursuit of understanding the effects of amnesia, too. “I have read many books, listened to many tapes and CDs, and attended many lectures,” he says.
“My belief, all my life, was that if I could find out why I had a memory problem or what was causing it, I could take something or do something to solve my problem.”
George found that many of the professionals he turned to for help seemed uninterested in talking about his memory problems specifically. “They would just say, ‘Everybody forgets things.’ Now I understand why this occurred,” George says. He shared that very little was known about memory loss until the 1950s and 1960s. “The professionals whom I contacted did not know that much about memory, so rather than tell me they did not know, they just acted like it was not important, and then they tried to shift the conversation to something they were familiar with,” he adds. “It always left me feeling that they never understood my problem and did not care to discuss it any further. Had I known that I had a condition that was not treatable, I could have saved a lot of time and money.”
George admits, at this point in his life, he is no longer looking for healing. “Recently, I watched a video college course on memory. In this course, the instructor explained that given the present-day knowledge regarding memory, there are many forms of memory problems which have no cure,” he says.
Researchers are working to better understand the neurological causes of amnesia and develop more effective techniques for treating and reversing memory loss. Our mission at the United Brain Association is to help fund promising research to help find cures for brain and mental health disorders worldwide. Your donations help further that mission — together, we can find a cure! For the latest updates, news, events, and Brain Stories, please sign up for the United Brain Association’s e-newsletter.