What Lonni Sue Johnson’s Amnesia Taught Us

Lonni Sue Johnson's amnesia taught us

Sometimes, medical science will accidentally stumble across new and wonderful discoveries. This article is about two new things that Lonni Sue Johnson’s amnesia taught us about the way our brains work.

Who Is Lonni Sue Johnson?

Johnson is a successful illustrator, currently in her sixties. Her work is widely loved. She has worked with the government, various corporations and several prestigious newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

In 2007, Johnson suffered from brain damage due to viral encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain. This destroyed her ability to form new memories, and it took away most of her old memories as well.

A year later, Johnson started working again. Her new art is intricate and colorful. Word puzzles are a frequent theme for her now.

New Insights about Different Types of Memory

Ever since her illness, Johnson can’t remember significant parts of her own life. She usually can’t recall basic facts about the world either – for example, she doesn’t know anything about history or art theory.

In spite of this, she can concisely explain what you need to do to complete some extremely complicated tasks. For example, she can explain the best way to use watercolors, even though she doesn’t remember seeing any famous paintings. Her work is as technically skilled as ever.

But her explanations cover other areas of life as well. Although she can’t recall her own travels, Johnson knows how to keep a plane from stalling.

Researchers have begun looking for an explanation about why Johnson can remember skills, but not facts. It seems likely that our brains store “how to” facts differently than other types of information.

Art as A Way of Coping with Memory Loss

If you suffer from memory loss, your doctors might have given you advice about writing everything down. Johnson’s art shows that this can be a form of creativity. She created her own shorthands and personal associations, and this resulted in fine works of art.


Lonni Sue Johnson’s amnesia taught us that brains are even more complex than we thought. Additionally, her work is an inspiration for anyone who struggles with remembering things. Even with her memory issues, Johnson keeps finding ways to express herself and speak to us all.

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