3.19.2008

Forget about it

I once called my wife at work, pulled her out of some important meeting, and said two words when she came on the line: "Annette Bening."

She thanked me, hung up, went back to her job.

No, we were not speaking secret-agent code. The night before, we'd seen a few minutes of some TV costume drama and couldn't identify "the actress in the turban." We both recognized her, but no amount of free-association brainstorming could turn up her name. We'd gone to bed stumped.

"Annette Bening" came to me fourteen hours later while I was cleaning the kitchen. I wasn't even thinking about the TV show. But some part of my brain had scanned the memory banks all that time and suddenly coughed up, "Annette Bening." Go figure.

Immediately upon recalling the name "Annette Bening," I phoned my wife. Two reasons: 1) We all love to be first with the correct "Jeopardy" answer, and 2) I knew I'd forget again any minute.

That my wife immediately understood what I was talking about and that she was grateful for the information shows her memory banks had been whirring the whole time, too. Now she could devote that brain space to something else, such as work.

This, my friends, is the current fate of the Baby Boomer. We're reaching "that certain age" where we're starting to forget things. A lot. And it worries us.

Most middle-aged people I know moan about memory loss. In the past week, I've heard the same complaint from two separate people: "It's not that I can't remember things. I can't remember the names of things." This condition inhibits their conversation and makes them fret.
Others find themselves constantly apologizing for missed appointments and broken dates. Many resort to palm-sized computers to keep track of their busy lives, then forget where they left their palm-sized computers.

My problem seems navigational. I'll get up from my desk and go to the kitchen on some errand. When I get to the kitchen, I pause, recognize I have no idea what I was planning to do. I wander back to my desk, then remember the task in the kitchen. I must hurry back to the kitchen to accomplish the task before it flits from my mind again. Then the process repeats.

I often come to in a different room with no notion of what propelled me there. Invariably, I've left my coffee cup elsewhere. So now I'm stranded in the wrong end of the house, nothing to drink, no idea what I was doing or where I should go next.

Worse yet, I do this same routine when I'm driving.

I gave up remembering people's names years ago. I just smile and nod and hope they don't notice. But now we can't remember the names of things? If we can't remember the word "fork," how long before we forget what one is used for?

This is our present, Baby Boomers, and we can only imagine what our doddering, fork-free future will be like.

The cause of this malaise? Brain cells die off as we age, and they take some of our memories and capabilities with them. Many of us accelerated this process in our youths, usually in activities that involved kegs.

But the main reason we can't remember anything is that we have too much to remember. We get too much input -- TV, books, advertising, computers, relatives, strangers all blaring messages at us all day long. We get too little quiet time and way too little sleep, so the messages come faster than our brains can process them. Under this constant barrage, our brains get full and the new stuff starts to push out the old.

To put this in computer terms: The hard-drive is at capacity. All incoming data erases existing data. Do you want to continue?

If the hard-drive is full now, what will we be like in twenty or thirty years?

A 75-year-old woman told me recently that when she can't remember something, she just waits. "It comes eventually."

And when it doesn't?

"Then you call friends. Ask them."

Ah. Regis, keep those lifelines open. I may need them, especially if the answer is anything other than "Annette Bening."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

That reminds me of ...
Aw hell, I'll get back to ya.
Jas.

STEVE BREWER said...

You'll think of it in the shower.