Copyright © 2006 Henrietta W. Hay
Thanks for the Memory
June 23, 2006
"Memory . . . is the diary we all carry about with us," wrote Oscar Wilde in "The Importance of Being Earnest." A more modern version is
"Memory is the ability of the human computer to store and retrieve that which has been input." The trick word there is "retrieve."
Here in the Commons the sentence we probably hear most often is, "Oh, I'm sorry. I just can't remember your name," or "I knew it a minute ago, but I can't remember it now." For most of us, it is that is a perfectly normal situation and we do not need to apologize for it.
Mostly it is new names we have trouble with, but it is embarrassing if you can't introduce your friend of 20 years by name.
The experts say that everything we have ever heard, seen, felt or said has been retained in that thing we carry on our shoulders. That is a scary thought.
Memory loss increases as we grow older. By 70 all of us are trying to remember what we had for breakfast yesterday. It is not, however, exclusively a problem of old age. I have to laugh when I hear baby boomers saying, "What was the name of that book I finished yesterday?"
To help us understand what is going on in that wonderful, amazing human organ called the brain, there is a highly informative web site called "The Anatomy of Memory"
It has pictures of the various parts of the actual brain, and shows where the memory areas are. Long term memory, which contains that basic knowledge of yourself, basic knowledge of the world, is located is in one part of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. Working memory is in another part. The cortex contains 70% of a person's 100 million brain cells. I think it is working memory that quits working now and then.
The brain works night and day and eventually it gets cluttered up with facts. If some of them get lost it is not necessarily a cause for panic, but probably essential to sanity. When we talk about a failing memory, we are actually talking about a memory that works. A perfect memory would be like a computer. We would be so locked in with what we have already learned, that we might be unable to produce new, creative thoughts.
But fear not. All is not lost. Brain researchers are convinced that there are things that can be done to compensate for weakening memories. Like muscles, nerve connections get stronger with use.
There are some time proven techniques that we can use to improve our memories. Playing games is a great brain exerciser. Bridge, poker, cribbage, chicken foot (honest) are good. And puzzles are great -- crosswords, jigsaws, jumbles, cryptoquip. The new Japanese numbers puzzle, Sudoku, is driving me nuts, but it makes me think. I want a tin medal because I actually finished one! Of course writing a weekly column should be good exercise, but I still can't remember that name I need. The goal is to keep your mind busy.
The brain is a phenomenal instrument. It was designed for the cave man, and still works in the computer age. So what if we forget a few names and words as we age. Think of all the stuff we have learned in a long lifetime.