Memory Loss? Forget About It

Memory Loss? Forget About It

Posted on March 12, 2014 by ElderCare Resources Phoenix in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiver Education, Dementia Care, Education, Independent Living, Memory Loss

By Joan Morris

If you’re older than 50, or pushing it, chances are you’ve had this sort of thing happen to you. You’re lying in bed, thinking about what’s on the agenda for the day. You make a mental note to grab your laptop, because you’ll need it for work. You shower, dress and head downstairs. Without the laptop. You start back upstairs, but just then the dog starts barking, and you look out to see the neighbor’s cat grooming itself, which reminds you that you need to make an appointment to have the dog groomed.

You call the groomers and celebrate the lucky set of circumstances that triggered the memory. Then you drive off to work. Without the laptop.

This happens to me, in various scenarios, at least three times a day. I get up to turn off the heat and instead grab the unfinished crossword puzzle. I make a mental note of the three things I need from the grocery store then wander the aisles unable to remember the third thing.

I used to have a terrific memory, but now it is a distant one.

There was a time when the realization that my memory was failing would have sent me screaming to my doctor, convinced I had early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Or a brain tumor. I’m not picky.

But then my mom was diagnosed with the dreaded disease.

My mom, who died two years ago at the age of 88, had a phenomenal memory, especially when it came to birthdays and anniversaries, but suddenly, it seemed, she couldn’t remember the way to her bedroom.

Shortly after the doctor gave us the terrible news, we were sent to a Kaiser memory class where doctors and nurses explained about Alzheimer’s and what we could expect.

As the neurologist handed out the cold hard facts, I’m pretty sure everyone in the room started wondering if our troubles remembering things were an omen of things to come.

But the doctor managed to put us at ease on that issue. We didn’t have a memory storage problem; we had a memory retrievable problem. He explained it this way.

Think of your memory as a large office with a file cabinet and a little man who files away all of those memories. When you’re young, you don’t have a lot of things in the cabinet.

When you meet someone new, the little man creates a folder with the person’s name on it, adds a sheet of paper with the particulars on it, and drops the folder into the file. A week or even months later when you see your new acquaintance approaching, the little man reaches into the nearby cabinet, grabs the file and all of the information is now available to you.

A few decades later, the memory room is now crammed with dozens of file cabinets, each one stuffed with thick folders. Now when you bump in to a new friend, the little man has to climb over cabinets and boxes piled to the ceiling, dig through the packed drawer and fight to pull out the folder. That’s why, five minutes after your new friend walks away, you suddenly remember his name and how you know him.

The doctor advised us not to worry about it and to stop trying to remember things. Anyone who is over 50 and doesn’t have a note pad at the ready is just asking for trouble, he said.

I didn’t want any more trouble, so I started writing things down. Then I couldn’t remember where I put the list.

Now I keep everything in my iPhone and hope the little man living inside it doesn’t start stumbling over the cabinets.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever make a killing on “Jeopardy! these days,” but given enough time, I can access all those 1970s music lyrics, the names of all of my former teachers, and the combination of my junior high locker.

Maybe the only thing we really need to remember is to cut ourselves some slack.

Published:  San Jose Mercury News