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The Loss of Consciousness and its effects on Memory

Mallori S. Baker

Oklahoma State University


The Loss of Consciousness and its effects on Memory

Research has shown that when someone receives a head injury, just like the football

player in the story, it is crucial for doctors to identify how bad the injury is as quickly as

possible, otherwise not detecting a concussion can lead to serious issues with memory formation

and retrieval. The Football player at first displays perfect memory capabilities, but when the

doctor comes back to re-run the memory tests she previously had ran only 15 minutes prior, the

player acts as if he has never seen the doctor. This type of head injury would most likely be

considered a concussion that caused the football player to engage in anterograde amnesia,

furthermore would indicate damage to the limbic system particularly the hippocampus.

The football player is able to communicate and memorize the information from the

memory tests for a short amount of time, which indicates that the players short-term memory

has not been damaged. He is able to remember the items from the test for a short amount of time,

but is unable to retrieve the information again when the doctor comes back. The Hippocampus

which is a building block to forming and retrieving memories is located within the temporal lobe,

and is considered a part of the limbic system. In a famous study of a man named HM, a doctor

made a lesion within his brain and removed the hippocampus and surrounding area of his brain

in order to stop his reoccurring seizures. Through the doctors procedure, many psychologists

have been able to gather crucial information about what parts of the brain control memory and

learning. HM was unable to form his short-term memories into long-term memories after the

removal of the hippocampus, which concluded that the anterior hippocampus and hippocampal

gyrus, either separately or together, are critically concerned in the retention of current experience

(Squire, 2009).

Although the football player seems to be able to remember everything prior to his loss of

consciousness, but cannot form his short-term memories into long-term memories indicates that

the football player is experiencing anterograde amnesia. The reason the football player is

experiencing anterograde amnesia is mostly likely due to the fact, that when he was hit on the

line of scrimmage the impact of the hit caused his frontal lobe to bounce off his skull, which

caused the loss of consciousness and the hippocampus to jolt. In 2001 Robert Cantu in his

research found out that, in the minutes to days after concussive brain injuries, brain cells that

were not irreversibly destroyed remained alive but were in a vulnerable state (Cantu, 2001). This

could have been a reason why the player did not exhibited anterograde amnesia right after he

gained consciousness. The neurons in his brain could have also been stunned and could have

caused either an influx of chemicals in the synaptic cleft, or the opposite not enough chemicals to

cause an action. After the jolt from the tackle and the player coming back to consciousness his

short-term memory was intact, but the connection from his short-term to long-term memory was


Recent research on retired NFL players who have experienced concussions have found

that those who experienced more concussions seemed to have a thinner hippocampal lining

(Macciocchi, Barth, Littlefield and Cantu, 2001), which could affect the formation of short-term

memories into long-term memories. Research has also indicated that those with mild concussions

who appear to have anterograde amnesia are usually able to start making new long-term lasting

memories anywhere from 24 hours to a week later depending on the severity of the concussion.

Those who have severe or repetitive concussions tend to struggle forming new memories for

longer amounts of time. It is generally believed that the degree of brain injury sustained is

indicated by the depth and duration of coma (Cantu, 2001), which will then result in the player

experiencing either retrograde or anterograde amnesia.

After analysis of the football players lack of memory of doing the doctors memory test

15 minutes prior to her previously conducting the tests, indicates that the player is experiencing

anterograde amnesia. With further research and analysis over anterograde amnesia the region of

the brain most likely affected by the loss of consciousness and difficulty making long-term

memories, is the hippocampus. Other possibilities could be the frontal lobe being jolted from the

impact, or the neurons in the brain conducting abnormal chemical flow within the synapse. The

football players short-term memory is still functional, but the process of transferring short-term

to long-term memories has been damaged. Depending on the severity of the concussion the

player could experience the anterograde amnesia anywhere from minutes to days or weeks later.

With further research on retired NFL players psychologists have concluded, that with the more

frequently someone obtains concussions, the thinner the hippocampal lining becomes. This can

cause long term effects with memory and the ability to learn and retain certain information.


Cantu, R. C. (2001). Posttraumatic Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia: Pathophysiology and

Implications in Grading and Safe Return to Play. Journal of Athletic Training. 36(3),


Macciocchi, S., Barth, J., Littlefield, L., & Cantu, R. (2001). Multiple concussions and

neuropsychological functioning in collegiate football players. Journal of Athletic

Training. 36(3), 303-306.

Squire, L. R. (2009). The legacy of patient H.M. for neuroscience. Neuron. 61(1), 6-9.