This paper comments on a companion article, a first-person account of an episode of transient global amnesia written by New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel (Gabriel T. 2017. Cogn Behav Neurol. 30:1-4). Mr Gabriel describes having no memories of a cold, rainy day that he had spent on a sailboat competing in two races. The episode may have been triggered by his exposure to water. Afterward, the skipper recalled that Mr Gabriel had functioned fine on the boat, although after returning to shore he needed help finding his car. When he told his wife over the phone that he could not remember where he lived, she got him home and to the hospital. The staff excluded stroke and other causes of amnesia. He felt some awareness after about 9 hours, and the episode ended after about 23 hours. He has been left with a permanent memory gap of 12 hours.
The commentary on the case outlines the state of knowledge about transient global amnesia. The diagnosis is well established: a witnessed sudden-onset retrograde and anterograde amnesia lasting <24 hours in a fully conscious person who knows who he/she is and has no other cause for amnesia. Triggers include exposure to water, stress, and sexual intercourse. A normal magnetic resonance imaging scan can help with the often challenging differential diagnosis. Apart from the gap in memory, patients recover fully and only 15% to 20% have recurrences. The underlying pathophysiology has not been explained.