Saturday, November 25, 2006

Short Term Memory

Since I’ve never been athletic or strong, the physical deterioration of strength or agility is not what I find troubling about growing old. What is bad is the loss of short term memory – having a thought and two seconds later being unable to recapture it. Where have I put something? The explanation is that what you learned well gets disseminated throughout your brain so that you can retrieve long-term memories from various parts, through many pathways. But short term memory must go “through the narrow funnel of the hippocampus” and that part of the brain deteriorates faster as you grow old.

I tried an experiment. A friendly young woman, new in our church, knew my name but I couldn’t remember hers. I was embarrassed that I kept forgetting so that when I went to introduce her, I would have to ask her again. After the last time I asked her, as soon as I got into the car, I wrote it down and for several days I practiced it. Now I know it. This is time-consuming for unimportant details.

In February I saw a daily book being sold for peanuts, and I thought, if I wrote everything important down, I would have a record. I went home without buying it, but a few hours later, thinking how useful it would be and a cheap experiment at $2, I went back and bought it. Now I wonder how I have done without it. I write down important details such as financial transactions, but unimportant details as well, such as when I watered the plants.

Not only do I forget real people’s names, but I forget the names of some of the characters in my novels. I think that is because I changed their names at the last moment because they were too close to the names of real people in my life.

Last winter I conducted a writers’ workshop, the first one I had done in a number of years. I was alarmed that the method I had always used wasn’t available to me. In the past I would have a general outline of the course, but rely on my memory to bring forth helpful examples from writers I have read. I couldn’t do that. I vowed never to teach another workshop because this was so painful, but now I have gone and said I would again. I will have to find another modus operandi.

I don’t worry that I have an incipient dementia because I have read about the symptoms and know that I don’t have any. Although I may have forgotten where I put my reading glasses, when I find them I don’t mistake them for an elephant.


Zhoen said...

Now, see... um, oh, yeah. Some of us have done this all our lives. Always terrible at names, phone numbers, lost keys and glasses. I've had to practice techniques to get by.

Maybe that's it, like any kind of studying, if you need it, you develop habits, if you don't, someday you have to start.

Peter said...

Excellent, Nancy. As i have ADD, my short-term memory is often worse off as the details going through the hippocamus are not the ones I want to remember, necessarily. Notebook--I have one, but I haven't been using it for that purpose (interviews and phone contacts). I'll steal your idea! :)

bloglily said...

Hi Nancy Ruth -- Just the other day I called our refrigerator the "garage" and since then I've noticed I often switch nouns around. I feel like my brain's like a messy closet and I can't always get my hands on the thing I want when I want it, so I pull out the next best thing.

I'd love to hear more about your writing workshop. It sounds very good.