Recovery from spontaneous confabulations parallels recovery of temporal confusion in memory

Neurology. 2000 Jul 12;55(1):74-83. doi: 10.1212/wnl.55.1.74.


Background: In previous studies, the authors found that patients with spontaneous confabulation differ from those with nonconfabulating amnesia by 1) temporal context confusion (TCC) in memory based on an inability to suppress intrusions of currently irrelevant memory traces into ongoing thinking; and 2) lesions involving the orbitofrontal cortex, basal forebrain, or amygdala and perirhinal cortex.

Objectives: To study the long-term clinical course of spontaneous confabulations, determine whether TCC in memory also parallels the clinical course of spontaneous confabulations, and study the impact of lesion site on clinical course.

Methods: Eight patients with spontaneous confabulation were re-examined 18 months after onset. Tests of memory and executive functioning and measurement of TCC in memory were again applied. MRI according to a standard protocol was performed to determine areas of permanent damage.

Results: Seven patients eventually stopped confabulating. TCC, but not common memory or executive tests, precisely paralleled the course of spontaneous confabulations. Patients with isolated, less extensive, orbitofrontal lesions stopped confabulating first and had the best neuropsychological outcome. Patients with basal forebrain lesions continued to confabulate for several months and remained amnesic. One patient with extensive orbitofrontal damage and perirhinal cortex damage continues to confabulate after more than 3 years, continuing to confuse memory traces.

Conclusions: Temporal context confusion in memory is not only the sole feature reliably separating patients with spontaneous confabulation from those with nonconfabulating amnesia in the acute stage, it is also the only feature that precisely parallels the clinical course of spontaneous confabulations. Most patients eventually stop confabulating but duration of confabulations depends on the lesion site.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia / pathology*
  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Confusion / pathology*
  • Confusion / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Perception / physiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed