Thursday, January 16, 2020

Forgetfulness is Not Just for the Old

I always talk with my students about memory loss and what it might signal--but always when we talk about memory loss, or for them, forgetfulness, every one of them has experienced an episode of forgetfulness, whether misplacing their phones or losing their keys.   I was pleased to read a recent editorial in the New York Times by neuroscientist, Everyone Is Wrong.

Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds. It’s doing some mental arithmetic, thinking about what you’ll say next in a conversation or walking to the hall closet with the intention of getting a pair of gloves.

Short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted. It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in the “next thing to do” file in your mind. You do this by thinking about them, perhaps repeating them over and over again (“I’m going to the closet to get gloves”). But any distraction — a new thought, someone asking you a question, the telephone ringing — can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.

Given that everyone has forgetfulness, the author's next point is important:

The relevant difference is not age but rather how we describe these events, the stories we tell ourselves about them. Twenty-year-olds don’t think, “Oh dear, this must be early-onset Alzheimer’s.” They think, “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now” or “I really need to get more than four hours of sleep.” The 70-year-old observes these same events and worries about her brain health. This is not to say that Alzheimer’s- and dementia-related memory impairments are fiction — they are very real — but every lapse of short-term memory doesn’t necessarily indicate a biological disorder.

So, why might we focus on this with elders?  The author suggests elders have more memories to get through-it's going to take more time to remember a specific and generally it may take older folks a bit longer to remember things. 

This is a very interesting article that I plan to reference when I'm discussing issues regarding memory loss and dementia with my students.

Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Other | Permalink


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