Scientists experimenting to weaken traumatic memories and lessen impact of PTSD

It has been commonly observed that individuals who experience or witness traumatic events or incidents may often find these distressing memories haunting them for a long period of time after the actual incident took place. People who are exposed to such trauma may develop severe mental, emotional, and anxiety disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. That is why researchers from 5 institutions across 3 separate geographical locations (Spain, America, and Netherlands) are trying to find a new way of weakening traumatic memories and reducing their psychological impact.

The research institutions include Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Reina Sofia–CIEN Foundation in Madrid, Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, and the New York University.

Can preset memories be influenced?

The existing opinion pertaining to memory research states that fixed memories are comparatively established and cannot be easily manipulated. However, according to the lead author Dr. Ana Galarza Vallejo and her team of researchers, one of the effective means of treating people with traumatic disorders is to try to selectively decrease their invasive, pathological memories. The researchers further demonstrated that if physicians act on the distressing memories of patients, there are high chances of weakening the impact of such traumatic memories.

As part of this study, Dr. Vallejo studied how 50 study participants reacted when they were made to watch midway through two narrated slide shows featuring undesirable emotional content with the objective of instilling unwanted memories in their minds.

The scientists recalled the study participants after 7 days and made them watch the first slide of both the presentations, with the intention of reactivating the distressing memories. The researchers asked the participants targeted questions after showing them the first slide. When the participants began recollecting the disturbing memories, the researchers sedated them by administering propofol, an anesthetic whose effectiveness the researchers wanted to evaluate in terms of manipulating memories.

Well-timed sedative may weaken traumatic memories

The researchers then divided the participants into two groups. After 24 hours of receiving the propofol injections, the researchers made the people in the first group take a test to evaluate how much of the stories they could actually recall from both the slide shows.

The participants in the second group were made to take the same tests instantly after receiving the propofol shot. The researchers observed that after 24 hours of receiving the shot, propofol was able to successfully interrupt the recollection of distressing memories that the participants were asked to recall. While the study participants of the first group were still able to recollect the distressing memories after watching the slide show, the same was not the case with the participants who were made to recall the same after the sedation.

Based on these findings, Dr. Vallejo and her team concluded that they may have chanced upon a comparatively non-invasive manner of weakening distressing memories thereby reducing their psychological impact. However, the researchers added that it would be useful to monitor the brain activity of the participants while they were sedated, to assess the best dosage of propofol.

Seeking mental health treatment

Millions of people across the globe experience traumatic events and often find it challenging to adjust to their surroundings or cope up with their normal life for a couple of days. However, if this condition persists for months or even years, it indicates that the individual may be suffering from PTSD. With timely medical intervention, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms of this debilitating mental disorder. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline is known for helping its patients enroll in advanced treatment programs for various mental health disorders, including PTSD. The treatment programs offered by our mental health experts include a healthy combination of expressive and experiential treatments, customized in accordance with the needs of the patient.

If you or a loved one is battling a mental disorder, including PTSD, reach out to the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. Call our 24/7 helpline 855-653-8178 for more information about mental health conditions and helpline centers catering to these. You can also chat online with our admission counselor for further assistance.