Monday, January 13, 2014

Like a Steel Trap

How many people do you know that have a mind like a steel trap? These people can seem to remember everything, and then some. Don’t you just sometimes wonder how much of that stuff they make up?

I read an article this morning in American Profile called “Flex Your Memory Muscle.”  With my interest in Alzheimer’s, any article memory related catches my attention. This article was particularly interesting since I had never heard of the USA Memory Championships—or if I’d ever heard of the contest, I forgot all about it.

These “mental athletes” are known as mnemonists. These people learn a vast amount of information—it would almost seem the more useless, the better. Yep. One guy, Johnny Briones, spends two hours a day memorizing the order of a randomly shuffled deck of cards. That might be a useful skill for Vegas, but don’t know how much it would matter in the real world. I digress. The point is to hone your memory skills through these mental exercises. Use it or lose it.

When a person has Alzheimer’s, their hippocampus, where short term memory resides, shrinks. Dr. Majid Fotuhi, author of Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, likens memorization to “pushups for your hippocampus.”

I don’t know about you, but I think my hippocampus could use some exercise. I do have a vast amount of trivia stored in my brain, no doubt cluttering up my cortex. My poor cortex has all this information safely stored away, but with all those little chunks of info, retrieving it, especially when I need it, is not likely to be that darned easy. So often, I’ll know that I know something, but can’t bring it to the forefront of my mind at the right time. No, I’ll wake up out of a sound sleep with the illusive piece of information I couldn’t retrieve when I needed it.

Several months ago, my youngest son observed that, “Mom, your memory isn’t as good as it used to be.”

I agreed, but had to add, “As long as I remember well enough to do my job, I’m fine. When I retire, I won’t have to remember anything anymore.”

So, soon after I quit going to work on a regular basis, I promptly forgot a hair appointment. Okay, so this had happened before—once in the last thirty years. How did I forget it when it was on my Google calendar, that set off an alarm on my cell phone? Well, I was working on an anthology that used a different Gmail account. Therefore, my Google Calendar wasn’t up like it usually is. My cell phone buzzes constantly, so I just ignored it. I was blissfully ignorant until about two hours too late when suddenly, “ding, ding, ding,” that little piece of info made its way to the forefront of my brain.  

People with Alzheimer’s lose their short-term memory and the long-term memory becomes more vivid and seems to be recent, rather than distant events. It only adds to the confusion when they can no longer remember or recognize a spouse or children.

There are a few things about memory that are different from person to person that has nothing to do with ability to retain knowledge. It has to do with selected memory. Some people select to remember the good times, the happy times, and not just the bad things. I tend to be that way.

I’m only going to pass through this world once, and I want my memories to be of the good times. Memorization comes through repetition, focus, and retrieval from the folds of your brain. If you don’t make a habit of focusing on the bad, those memories will become more faded. They may not go away, but they also won’t determine the course of your life.

Each one of us has bad memories, possibly even horrid memories. We control the focus and quality of our memories. It is my brain, my hippocampus, my cortex.

Do I want to use my “memory muscle” to make my life better, or miserable? I choose better! I will never be a mnemonist, but I hope to keep my good memories, happy memories for a long, long time. I’d take that over memorizing a deck of cards any day.

copyright © by L. S. Fisher, January 2014

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