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PTSD and memory

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"PTSD is characterised by traumatic memories that seem different from other kinds of memories. Such memories continue for many decades, they are easily triggered, and their affect-laden quality can make them difficult to translate into words. Memory in PTSD patients is also characterised by different kinds of impairment, including not being able to remember aspects of the trauma and fragmentation of memories. These clinical symptoms are entirely consistent with current evidence of dysfunction in the amygdala and hippocampus - which are important structures in the "emotional memory system" of the brain." brain explorer

from: http://www.duke.edu/


" Recent studies have shown that victims of childhood abuse and combat veterans actually experience physical changes to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory, as well as in the handling of stress.5 The hippocampus also works closely with the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that regulates our emotional response to fear and stress." http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/arti...ehavior/ptsd_4/

"How Psychological Trauma Affects the Hippocampus and Memory
Childhood abuse and other sources of extreme stress can have lasting effects on the parts of the brain that are involved in memory
and emotion. The hippocampus, in particular, seems to be very sensitive to stress.8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 Damage to the hippocampus from stress can not only cause problems in dealing with memories and other effects of past stressful experiences, it can also impair new learning.17,18 Exciting recent research has shown that the hippocampus has the capacity to regenerate nerve cells ("neurons") as part of its normal functioning, and that stress impairs that functioning by stopping or slowing down neuron regeneration.19,20"



"In a study using combat-related slides and sounds to provoke PTSD symptoms, combat veterans with PTSD had decreased blood flow in the area of the medial prefrontal cortex. Significantly, this did not occur in combat veterans without PTSD32 We saw similar results when we compared women with PTSD and a history of childhood sexual abuse to women with a history of abuse but no PTSD."


How is the prefrontal cortex related to memory?

"How do we recall and store information long enough to work with it. Here's a defining quote from a Scientific American Article:
researchers are beginning to fathom the neural processes underlying "working memory"--the limited, short-term store of currently relevant information that we draw on when we comprehend a sentence, follow a previously decided plan of action or remember a telephone number. When we bring to mind the name of Russia's president, for instance, that information is temporarily copied from long-term memory into working memory. "

"The researchers suggest that people with PTSD may have impaired function in the front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex."...."What could be going on?

The researchers speculate that since the prefrontal cortex sends signals to the amygdala, which is a cluster of nerve cells in the brain that stores memories, including those of fear, stimulating the prefrontal cortex may directly impact the ability to remember a fear response"



"If left unchecked, emotional memory can lead to chronic fear, forming the basis of anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Normally, the prefrontal cortex dampens the amygdala's response and calms the fear. But for most PTSD sufferers, their prefrontal cortex does not send this message. About 25 percent of Americans have a diagnosable anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and the collective bill for treating these disorders amounts to about $45 billion per year." http://www.ect.org/effects/memory.html



Is there hope? Yes.

"Brain cell growth. For decades it has been considered a fundamental truth that adult brains never grow new cells. But one of the most exciting recent discoveries in memory research is that neurons do multiply."

"EMDR therapy combines a somatic therapeutic approach with eye movements or other forms of rhythmical stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds that stimulate and integrate the left and right hemispheres of the brain."


See also: treatments for ptsd and dyslexia


Online resources

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from medline



Journal articles


Zaidel DW. (1995). The case for a relationship between human memory, hippocampus and corpus callosum. Biol Res. 28(1):51-7.


"Unilateral brain damage which includes the hippocampus leads to memory impairments consistent with hemispheric specialization on the same side. Damage to the corpus callosum, the major connecting pathway between the left and right hemispheres, also leads to memory impairments. This suggests both hemispheric specialization on the hippocampal level and a critical role for the corpus callosum in memory functions. A complete hippocampal formation is present on either side of the brain but traditionally only one is studied. However, a comparison between the neuronal populations in the hippocampus on both sides revealed asymmetry in connectivity among hippocampal subfields. The profile of memory impairments of commissurotomy ('split-brain') patients is described. The results are discussed in terms of a relationship between hippocampus and corpus callosum in humans. As hemispheric specialization evolved, inter-hippocampal connections became less important and the corpus callosum became prominent in memory functions."


Emdad, Reza; Sondergaard, Hans Peter; Theorell, Töres. (2005). Short communication: Impairments in short-term memory, and figure logic, in PTSD patients compared to healthy controls with the same ethnic background. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress. 21(1). pp. 33-44.


Background: There is a paucity of studies of possible impairments of figure logic in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Aim: To determine whether figure logic is impaired in the PTSD patients compared to healthy subjects with the same ethnic background (refugees from Iraq). Method: Thurstone's Picture Memory Test (TPMT), Raven Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) and Benton Visual Retention Test (BVRT) were used in 30 PTSD patients, and 20 controls, all men. Results: Using ANCOVA, there was a significant difference between the PTSD group and the control group with regard to the TPMT scores, adjusted for age, number of years of education, and RSPM (M = 15.69, SD = 7.63 for those with PTSD versus M = 20.90, SD = 4.99 for the controls, F = 4.14, p = 0.05). RSPM was a factor, which significantly contributed to the group difference (RSPM: F = 7.43, p = 0.009), however age, and educational level could not explain the group difference. Mean number of incorrect responses in the BVRT were associated with TPMT score (unstandardized B = -0.36, t = -2.08, p = 0.05). Conclusion: Overall, the results provide support for and confirm the hypothesis that short term visual memory is impaired in PTSD patients. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved)(journal abstract)
Similar articles




Vasterling, J. (Editor), Brewin, C. (2005). Neuropsychology of PTSD : Biological, Cognitive, and Clinical Perspectives. New York : Guilford Press. Find this in a library

"This volume explores how the disruption of the information processing systems of the brain is central to understanding the psychopathology of trauma-related syndromes. Its strength is that it elucidates basic neuroscience concepts that are important to understanding both the etiology and phenomenology of PTSD. Against this background there is an inviting discussion of treatment issues, which are well-linked back to the basic psychobiology. Bringing together eminent experts in the field, this book will serve as a primary reference for clinicians and researchers alike."--Alexander C. McFarlane, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide, Australia



Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Bibliography

http://www.dcha.org/EP/Guides/PTSD Bibliography.htm

Memory- scientific articles


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Search terms: Hippocampus, corpus callosum, the brain, amygdala, left brain, left and right brain, ptsd, posttraumatic stress disorder, combat veterans and ptsd, Hippocampus/anatomy & histology, Hippocampus/injuries, Hippocampus/physiology, Humans, Memory/physiology

Related links: Victim blame, Secondary victimization, PTSD, Multiple victimization, Invisible community


Courtois, C. (1999). Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines. New York: W.W. Norton.

Freyd, J. (1996). Betrayal Trauma. The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pope, K.S. (1996). Memory, Abuse, and Science. Questioning Claims about the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic. American Psychologist 51, (9), 957–74.

van der Kolk, B. (1996). Trauma and Memory. In van der Kolk, B., McFarlane, A. and Weisarth, L. (Eds.). Traumatic Stress. New York: Guilford Press.

Zaidel DW. (1995). The case for a relationship between human memory, hippocampus and corpus callosum. Biol Res. 28(1):51-7.


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