Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chronic Deja Vu

You've got Chronic Déjà Vu. You don't even go to the doctor because you feel like you've already been there. Yikes!

This is a real syndrome, according to British medical researchers who are studying memory and finding it an unforgettable experience.

"We had a peculiar referral from a man who said there was no point visiting the clinic because he'd already been there, although this would have been impossible," said psychologist Chris Moulin, who runs a memory clinic at the University of Leeds in the UK.

So Moulin has started the first known study of the condition.

Of course we are all familiar with déjà vu. It hits most of us now and then. We're struck by the sensation that we have experienced an event before, even though we can't fully remember it or perhaps know it didn't really happen.

The sensation has long fascinated psychologists but the condition is fleeting, so researchers can't study it. What was needed was a research subject with a more permanent case of the syndrome.

After running ads and hitting the talk show circuit, Moulin finally heard from a man with the first known case of permanent deja vu. When he visited Moulin's clinic, he gave details of his previous visit, even though the clinic didn't exist at the time. The man is never certain what is genuine memory and what is imagined. He has déjà vu so bad that he doesn't watch TV news because he feels like he's seen it all before.

"When this particular patient's wife asked what was going to happen next on a TV program he'd claimed to have already seen, he said, 'How should I know? I have a memory problem!"

Moulin and colleagues have since found other patients, now that they know what to look for.
The condition can cause depression and is sometimes diagnosed as a state of delusion. But Moulin's team believes it to be a memory problem.

"The exciting thing about these people is that they can 'recall' specific details about an event or meeting that never actually occurred," Moulin said. "It suggests that the sensations associated with remembering are separate to the contents of memory, that there are two different systems in the brain at work."

The problem might involve a memory circuit that is overactive or stuck in the "on" position.

The researchers believe they have tried everything to pinpoint the problem. "Why I remember distinctly conducting a brain scan on this man before I even realized he had deja vu," said Moulin scratching his head. Members of the research team say they don't know why their boss is studying this medical condition because they remember studying it before. They just can't seem to find the records. One young scientists said he has been telling them about the last time he served on a research team. They had a mass memory failure leading to a cancelation of their research grant due to inactivity.

The deja vu syndrome is familiar to many Americans who believe they have a strange variation of the condition called "Groundhog Day Syndrome." It involves watching the Bill Murray movie over and over, not realizing they had seen it before. So far, American psychologists and memory researchers have dismissed the problem. "Been there, done that," concluded Dr. Phineas T. Butler, a clinical psychologist from Punxatawney, PA.

Filed by The Stickler, who failed to see his shadow today.

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