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  1. This study’s conclusion that memory is not lost but is somehow "locked in" prompted me to write with my own experience. For the last 10 years of his life, my father lived in a care home near mine and I saw him daily.

    Initially he had Parkinson disease, but in the years that followed he suffered from a series of mini-strokes and eventually cancer. During this time he also suffered from senility—whether strictly speaking Alzheimer's or not I can't say—but he was increasingly confused, forgetful, and entirely unable to carry out the most basic self care, so that ultimately he was asleep virtually all the time, waking only to be fed, and speaking very rarely.

    By the time he spent his last Christmas day with us at home, he was in a most pathetic state, and had not spoken more than a word or two in many months. At 5 p.m., as we were sitting around him after opening presents, we had a most odd experience. He suddenly "came to life."

    It was as though someone had flipped a switch in his brain, and for the next 45 minutes he laughed and chatted and “remembered,” and we watched in utter amazement at this complete return of his old self. He appeared to have no recollection of his illness and no sense that "normal service had been interrupted." It was obvious that his memory and sense of humor were absolutely intact.

    For three quarters of an hour, we watched in delight as he shared anecdotes of past Christmases, teased his grandchildren, and made jokes—and then, as suddenly as the switch had flipped on, it flipped off again, and he never spoke again until his death more than 2 years later.

    I realize this is just one anecdotal experience, but it was obvious to me then that his memory had absolutely not been wiped clean, as I had supposed, but that those memories had somehow been rendered inaccessible by his illness.

    View all comments by Geraldine Durrant