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People with temporal lobe epilepsy are able to learn and remember without difficulty for many hours, but forget those memories at an unusually fast rate in the following days. (Photo: iStock)

Imagine walking past a bakery with baguettes displayed in the window. Now imagine walking past the same bakery a week later and stopping to look at a display of croissants.

Healthy adults are typically able to recognize that the bakery's window display has changed. Individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy are much less likely to discern the change in the display.

To better understand why, Dr. Mary Pat McAndrews, Senior Scientist at Krembil Research Institute, has been studying how memories are formed and recalled in those with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common form of location-related epilepsy and often develops during teenage years. Those with the condition are able to learn and remember without difficulty for many hours, but forget those memories at an unusually fast rate in the following days.

When medications do not work, surgery may be an alternative treatment.

"We asked some temporal lobe epilepsy patients who are considering surgery to look at photos of objects paired with photos of scenes – for example, a couch and an apartment building," describes Samantha Audrain, who co-led the study with Dr. McAndrews. "We then recorded how well they remembered these pairings at several time points in the following three days and compared the results to those from healthy volunteers.

"We found that individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy forgot about the object-scene pairings much more quickly than healthy individuals, starting after about six hours," adds Dr. McAndrews.

"These findings agree with the theory that for those with the condition, the part of the brain that helps process object information makes weaker connections with the part that helps store memories."

Further exploring why these connections are altered may reveal new strategies for identifying and treating patients who are more likely to experience long-term memory loss due to temporal lobe epilepsy.

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.

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