Grant round winners 2010

A large proportion of people with epilepsy experience memory problems, but the reasons for this are still poorly understood. One possibility is that it is due to a type of impairment known as accelerated long-term forgetting (ALF), which has recently been discovered in people with epilepsy.

People with ALF are able to learn information well, but find that it fades rapidly from memory over the subsequent days or weeks. Dr Chris Butler and colleagues from the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Exeter have been awarded £84,853 over 36 months, to carry out a project entitled Accelerated long-term forgetting in epilepsy: the role of interference, which will examine the cause of this pattern of memory loss.

New memories are usually strengthened or consolidated over time, but previous studies suggest that, in epilepsy, memory consolidation is disrupted by ongoing mental activity (known as interference). Dr Butler and his group predict that ALF is due to an excessive sensitivity to this sort of interference, and expect that a period of complete peace and quiet directly after learning will help to reduce forgetting.

During the project, the team will examine the relationship between interference and long-term memory in groups of people with transient epileptic amnesia (a form of epilepsy particularly associated with ALF), classical temporal lobe epilepsy and healthy controls. They will investigate several parameters in each group, including the time between learning and forgetting; the effect of minimising interference at different stages after learning; whether memory strength alters sensitivity to interference; whether sleep and minimal interference have different effects upon forgetting, and how forgetting changes under different recall and recognition conditions.

By understanding the mechanisms that lead to rapid forgetting in epilepsy, Dr Butler and his colleagues hope to encourage the development of strategies and memory aids specifically to help people with epilepsy.