GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As we have been telling the story of Caitlin Little, many people have contacted us to ask, “How can this happen? How can someone remember things all day and then have that memory erased overnight?”
Chris and Jennifer Little, Caitlin’s parents, had the same question. But what they learned was much of medical science had no answers. Caitlin took a hard knock on her head in October 2017 while she was running at cross country practice and was diagnosed with a concussion, but nothing more. All the doctors and trainers said three weeks of rest should heal her, as it does most concussions.
“We passed that three-week point, nothing had changed,” Jennifer said. They asked a neurologist in their hometown if he could do a brain scan. “And so he said, 'Fine, they won't find anything but I'll sign you up for that.' So, November 14, we did an EEG. It came back normal,” Jennifer remembered.
Several doctors seemed to think Caitlin’s brain was not the issue. Stress, anxiety and a strong enough desire to remember, those doctors said, was the real cause of her issues.
“It was the first time we started doubting; 'Is Caitlin faking this? Is Caitlin tricking us? Are we missing something?'” Jennifer said. “And that was a horrible feeling because all we wanted to do is get her better and now we're having these second thoughts and setting up sort of tests for her to see, is somehow, is she doing this, is she controlling this?”
But it got Chris thinking.
“I was willing to entertain the notion that the doctor at Duke said that, 'Well, maybe she just doesn't want to remember or she isn't remembering,'” Chris said. “So, I kind of set up little tests. I would misplace things to see if she'd remember where they were. I would talk to her about things and then ask her about them, later. Do anything I could because I hoped there was somehow, some way that this was something that she had control of, because that would've been the best outcome - because we can fix that. But I never, in the 15 months, have ever saw her remember something from a prior day, not even one time.”
That didn’t answer their questions as to why Caitlin’s memory was resetting each night.
FOX8 sat down with Dr. Dan Kaufer, who runs the Memory Loss Clinic at UNC-Chapel Hill. He hasn’t examined Caitlin but was able to talk to us about memory loss, in general.
"Memories aren't so much stored in a certain part of the brain as they are recreated. When we lay down a memory, we're laying down a pattern that's associated with electrical signals and chemical processes that occur, oftentimes, while we're sleeping through a process called consolidation,” Dr. Kaufer said. “Now when we're trying to remember something, it's not so much that we're looking at the address in their brain of where the memory is as it is. We're actually creating the pattern of electrical and chemical activity that laid down the memory in the first place. So, in fact, we're not remembering something as much as we are recreating the memory trace of what happened. That suggests that the source of her problem, maybe with the sleep-mediated consolidation process, which lays down the memory traces that we accumulate during the day and packages them into a more long-term memory store.”
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