If you’ve ever found yourself in a room with no idea of why you are there, or discovered your missing glasses on the top of your head, this is for you.
Like me you probably think your memory is not what it used to be. Of course you can’t be sure, because you can’t remember how good it was. What I am certain of is that when I was younger the phrase, “What am I doing here?” had a quaint metaphysical and spiritual connotation; whereas nowadays it comes with a sense of loss and helplessness, together with a deep desire to blame someone else.
In an effort to improve my own memory I’ve been seeking a greater understanding of human memory through researching the topic. Of course I’ve been taking notes so that I don’t forget anything, if only I could remember where I put them.
It seems that there three different types of memory. Firstly a sensory memory that holds information for only a few seconds after we perceive an object. This allows us to recognise what an object looked like after just the briefest observation. This is useful when you get the merest glimpse of something your partner is trying to hide from you; lavish boxes of chocolates, Victoria’s Secret gift boxes and Mortgage foreclosure notices are examples that spring to mind.
Then there is short term memory which allows you to recall items for up to about a minute without rehearsal. Its capacity is limited, typically in the order of 4 – 5 items, more if it involves who is related to whom and the nature of the relationship; fewer if the topic is technical and useful.
Finally there is long term memory which can potentially store an enormous amount of information for a lifetime. This accounts for early childhood memories, the ability to recall the lyrics of songs from our youth, and being able to precisely detail whose fault it was that the summer holiday of 1993 was such a disaster.
One common and irritating memory lapse is the tip of the tongue phenomenon.This is a failure to retrieve a memory that we have stored; you can be certain that it will all come flooding back as soon as the information is no longer relevant or useful.
Much of our memory failure is due to inattention. We can’t remember where we put something because when we last had it we were simultaneously mediating between murderous siblings, reminding our partner of their Mother’s impending birthday and administering first aid to a baby bird brought in by the cat.
When it comes to improving your memory I’m afraid the news is all bad – there is something you can do. This is bad because we can no longer rest on our laurels and sink into a long anticipated and deserved blissful and unflappable deterioration where forgotten names and missed appointments no longer faze or annoy us. That scourge of modern society, physical exercise, can help. Just when you thought it was safe to call everyone Dear and smile uncomprehendingly at an appointments calendar you have to get out running, biking or swimming. It seems that continuous aerobic exercise has been shown to have many benefits for the brain, including memory. Sleep too is important as it improves the consolidation of new memories. Despite my strenuous efforts I was unable to find any research supporting chocolate and wine as being beneficial to memory.To me, this omission implies their importance is a given, and so I intend to continue my medicinal intake of both.
Following my investigations I’m going to continue my therapeutic chocolate and wine consumption. I will also endeavour to focus more on the task at hand, and get more exercise and sleep. Then if that doesn’t work there is always the tried and tested survival techniques of conversations without using names, searching the room for clues, owning many reading glasses and putting my mobile number at the top of my land line’s speed dial list. When I’m beyond this then everything will be a new experience and I’ll no longer know what I’m missing.