Memory – What Memory

Richard Lancaster

I spent over an hour the other day looking for my mobile. Frustrated, I searched my memory trying to recollect when and where I had last had it. I gave up in the end. It was only that wretched gadget’s sudden ringing that told me where it was.

Increasingly of late, I have found myself murmuring ‘Where did I put it’ or ‘What have I come here for’ or saying to someone ‘I was going to tell you something, but I’ve forgotten what it was’ or even more embarrassing, repeating stories to people to whom I had already related them to.

Being the age I’m at, the dreaded word dementia started to loom large in my thinking. Having personally witnessed the sad onset of dementia in friends had brought the focus of that dreaded disease to my doorstep. However I was somewhat reassured after having discussions with friends of a similar vintage, that they too had experienced similar problems of forgetfulness. ‘Don’t worry, it’s quite normal. As we age our brain cells don’t transmit messages as efficiently as they used to’, my mate Barry reassured me. I was impressed, but wanted to know where Barry had suddenly acquired this fantastic medical know-how from.

‘From the internet!’ was his response. With doubt replacing relief on my face, he quickly responded, ‘It’s logical, man. As other parts of your body wear, it’s only natural that the brain will experience some wear and tear as well. Externally, as your hair greys and your skin wrinkles, so too does your brain age!’ The more I pondered on Barry’s prognosis, the more sense it made. Evidently, scientists also know why so many of us have poor short-term memories. Tests have shown that we can visually only recall up to 4 items at a time. Therefore these maddening, frustratingly and annoying instances of short-term memory loss don’t necessarily add up to the onset of dementia.

 And I believe I proved it to myself with a little logical thought. Yesterday, I was in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables with my favourite knife, when my mobile rang. I was expecting an important call and because the mobile was upstairs in the office. I took off in haste, anxious not to miss the call. It was a long call demanding my complete attention and after it had finished, I returned to my culinary duties. But where was my knife? It wasn’t on the kitchen bench. In fact it was no where in sight.‘Oh no! Not again!’ I heard myself say, preparing once again, to curse my faulty memory. But then I paused. What had stopped me chopping up the veggies? The mobile ringing in the office, of course. That light-bulb moment told me where I would find the knife. It was lying on the desk, near the mobile, where I had put it. I had misplaced the knife due to a lack of concentration. My total focus was on answering the phone call and it’s content, so everything else including the knife, was forgotten. 

So now, understanding that my rusty brain needs exercise, I now regularly engage in brain activities such as crosswords, sudoku and reading. For as Barry and the Internet wisely says ` Use or Lose it!`

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