Nature of the mind to forget, nature of man to worry
Absentminded! Perfectly normal until...
Getting worried about your memory? Youíve lost your car keys again,
your spectacles have disappeared into oblivion, and you walked around
the parking lot for half an hour the other day, before you could
remember where you parked your car. Something on the tip of your tongue,
but you canít get it out?
ďDonít fret. You are perfectly normal,Ē says psychologist Gordon H.
Bower of Stanford University: ďIt is the nature of the mind to forget -
and the nature of man to worry about his forgetfulness.Ē
Actually, you have a colossal memory. In a few cubic inches your
brain stores much more information than can be stored in a huge computer
installation. One researcher calculates the brainís storage capacity at
one quadrillion bits of information - thatís a million times a billion.
It isnít surprising that we occasionally forget; it is a wonder that we
are able to store and retrieve so much.
Memory is an awesome process that has long fascinated inquiring
minds. Only recently, however, has there been a concentrated effort to
define, measure and work out its mechanics. Neuroanatomists,
psychologists, molecular biologists, bio chemists and others are
Today, we live in a hectic world, in which all of us have too many
things going on at once, and the minute details of our day-to-day lives
are easily forgotten. Most often, the frustrating problem of
absentmindedness is to blame, and to solve it, you simply need to clean
out the clutter in your life that is causing lapses in memory.
The basis of absentmindedness is a failure between memory and
attention. Usually, when you are being absentminded, your conscious
processing is focused on something other than the task at hand. In
simple words, you are thinking about something else.
I know of a cellist, who got into a cab at a hotel where he
performed, and put his expensive cello in the trunk. When he arrived at
his destination, he paid the cabbie, got out, and walked off, leaving
his cello in the trunk. In this situation, itís a failure of attention
at the time when memory retrieval is necessary.
Someone who is Ďpaying attentioní is aware of their environment and
is recording memories about what they see and hear. If someoneís
attention is focussed inward, while travelling in the cab, he may have
focussed fully on the next nightís presentation in his inner thought
process, while having very little recollection of the external
environment he passed by.
For most of us, itís not an expensive cello we need to give attention
to, itís the little things that usually cost a lot less, but, may be
equally important to everyday life.
Absentmindedness is something closer to a personality trait; most
likely, an absentminded person would say he or she has been that way
their whole life, constantly trying to juggle tasks, and inevitably,
some tasks get forgotten. But, as we age and tend to get busier, that
trait seems more pronounced as we deal with increasingly hectic
Absentmindedness is nothing to worry about, much. What we do need to
worry is when absentmindedness does interfere with our ability to
function on a daily basis. Then, itís a sign that something beyond a
busy schedule or lack of attention to detail may be to blame.
For instance, the individual who misplaces his keys, doesnít know
they are lost, and then forgets what they are for, thatís a much
different level of impairment. In addition to the forgetfulness, other
things can happen. There are difficulties with speech, problem-solving,
and planning. There are changes in the ability to write, or to
comprehend instructions. That may be the first signs of Alzheimerís
disease. At this point, a trip to the doctorís office for further
evaluation and treatment is needed.
Memory loss is one of the main worries - and irritations - of ageing.
Why the loss? Perhaps one reason is -that after age 35, something like
100,000 brain neurons perish each day, never to be replaced. The ageing
personís biggest trouble is retrieving stored knowledge, searching out
some fact in the dark recesses of the mental attic. Though they have
difficulty with recent events, many insist they recall the distant past
with crystal clarity. Psychologists are dubious. Mostly, they believe,
memories of long ago are kept fresh by frequent recall.
Studies suggest that the failure of short-term memory in the elderly
may trace, in part, to lack of oxygen. Because of hardening arteries or
a poorly pumping heart, sufficient oxygen does not get to the brain. A
recent study reports that 13 patients (average age: 68) spent two
90-minute sessions a day, for two weeks, breathing pure oxygen under
pressure. Scores on short-term-memory tests shot up.Moreover, the
subjects appeared to hold these gains for considerable periods after
oxygen treatment stopped.
For general absentmindedness, there are easy solutions that can help
solve this frustrating problem.
*Simplify your life. Donít be overwhelmed by too many things at once,
and take tasks one at a time.
*Get proper rest and nutrition so you are in a well-rested frame of
*Keep to a schedule. People who stick to a schedule are less
absentminded than people who donít.
*Get plenty of exercise, both physical and mental. Challenge the
brain in new and creative ways throughout life. Read and join a good
library, learn to play chess, or do some voluntary work.
*Be methodical. Keep items that you use every day in the same place
all the time. If you are rigid about it, you will always find them in
their spots when you go looking for them.
*Make effective use of reminders, like sticky notes. If you are IT
savvy, use Google Calendar or mobile phone diary app.
Above all, be mentally active, by reading, observing, and learning.
The brain responds to exercise. Memory fall-off is far less in the
intelligent, mentally active person than in others.