There’s no predicting what will bring back a memory.
Thomas Leeds was only 19-years-old when a tragic accident left him with spinal and brain injuries. Leeds had been hit by a car when crossing a road on foot in London. In fact he was hit so hard that the witnessing police officer was badly shaken after having seen the accident. Leeds underwent surgery to remove a deadly blood clot in his brain a few days later and woke up without any memories of his life before being struck. He went back to live with his large family, but nothing triggered any memories for him in all that time. He later fell in love and got engaged but still had problems from his brain injury. He was sensitive to sounds, had seizures, had prosopagnosia (face blindness), as well as continued memory loss.
Then as he was approaching his 30th birthday he was making a playlist of ’80s songs for his celebration since these were (in theory) songs he’d grown up with. While endless stories and anecdotes from family never jogged his memory, there was a song that played when he skipped past a known track. Somehow he’d not heard this particular song in all the time since his accident, but when he did finally hear it something incredible happened.
He got a series of flashback memories from childhood, one after the other. Leeds later said that while the song triggered the first memory, that memory is what triggered the others to follow. He suddenly remembered listening to the radio with his parents, holding his dad’s hand, and other memories of his childhood soon followed. “It really changed everything for me,” he later said.
There are still holes in his memory, his short term memory is still diminished, and when awakes from seizures he can lose time and not remember what year it is. But, Leeds is now a writer and father of 2 who has had ongoing flashback events that have let him regain a portion of his memories.
Baking has become one of his passions, which he shares with online followers, since it was one of the first things he and his mother did after his accident when he was still re-learning to read and write.
By some estimations our memories are still in our brains after a head trauma or disease makes them inaccessible. But, the chemical signals of the altered brain simply don’t allow for direct paths to these memories like the pre-accident pathways did. Obscure memories that are related to a song or a smell can be be powerful memory-joggers in cases like Leeds’, something that can be witnessed time and again dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.