Think you're forgetful?
I was standing at a cocktail party with my husband when a woman approached us. “Hi Sonja,” she said, smiling.“How are you?”
I automatically smiled warmly back at her and answered, “Hi, really well thanks, you?” Then, right on cue, my husband stuck out his hand and introduced himself prompting her to disclose her name, which of course I’d forgotten.
This happens to me frequently. I am great at remembering faces, terrible with names. My husband has no problem remembering either and berates me for my appalling memory. And it’s not just names. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gone to make sandwiches for my children only to realise I’ve left the bread I purchased earlier sitting on the counter of the bakery.
And only last week I drove over an hour, with my children, so they could see their grandmother for her birthday, only to leave her gift on the kitchen table at home.
As I explain to those close to me, at the same time possibly trying to convince myself, all these occurrences can be attributed to a busy life and perhaps the occasional lack of concentration. And of course there are the jokey references to early Alzheimer’s. But for those with more serious issues with memory loss, it can be overwhelming, even debilitating.
After reading an article on the topic, a close friend of mine began wondering whether she has the symptoms of prosopagnosia. For those afflicted, it impairs the ability to recall faces. Often referred to as ‘face blindness’, there are no formal estimates of the commonness of the condition but a recent study conducted in Germany reported a prevalence rate of 2-2.5%.
Originally thought to only affect those with neurological damage, recent evidence suggests there may be a genetic contribution to developmental prosopagnosia. There are both mild and extreme cases and while I regularly find it amusing that my friend can have met someone four or five times before she has any recollection of who they are, I didn’t realise, until recently, how much it bothers her.
Her affliction isn’t restricted to social encounters. For example, imagine a movie where, for example the central female character is in a scene wearing a yellow dress with her hair flowing loosely. Two scenes later she has put her hair up and is now wearing a bath robe. My friend will ask with genuine sincerity who this new character is.
Fortunately I’ve known my friend for long enough so she doesn’t forget me. In fact if I ask her to recall the whereabouts of a cute dress shop we visited together three months ago, she’ll be able to give directions in an instant. She just won’t remember the shop assistant.
Memory is something we tend to take for granted. While we spend considerable amounts of time teaching our children to recall colours, recite the alphabet and remember the names of our friends, the older we become the less inclined we are to practice memory retention. Worse, in late adulthood, experts say, a region of the brain involving memory, the hippocampus, shrinks.
But there is hope. A new study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center shows that exercising regularly helps reduce memory loss. Researchers tracked brain cells within a living brain in an attempt to identify the parts most affected by exercise. The study found that exercise targets the region associated with the age-related memory decline that usually begins at age 30.
The hopeful outcome of the study is to find out the benefits of specific exercises and tailor a workout regimen to limit memory loss.
So it’s off to the gym for me. In the meantime according to Erin Matlock, CEO of Brain Pages, there is a trick to remembering names. When you are introduced to someone you need to turn the name into an image and associate it with vivid actions. For instance, you meet Jane and immediately picture her wrapped up in a giant silver chain. As she attempts to shake your hand she breaks the chain sending pieces flying through the air. It may take time to master and appear moderately violent but experts agree it works.
Whether you never forget a thing or you struggle to remember what you did yesterday, let’s never forget that there is one kind of memory that’s both vital and useful to maintaining healthy relationships: selective.