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The Psychology Shop

Memory: Part I- Introduction

Memory : Part I
Introduction

At some point in your life (maybe this morning) you may have forgotten where you placed your keys, could not remember a person’s name, or forgot to take the lunch you made. You may have even noticed that various family members also have lapses in memory. Has your child ever said “I don’t know” when you asked who put the banana in the freezer? You may also have told your adolescent offspring to bring you something in five minutes and he had totally forgotten the conversation between your request and the end of the five minute period. It is true that some individuals may use the “I forgot” excuse to get out of a difficult situation. However, it is important to remember (no pun intended) that we all forget from time to time.

What exactly is memory? Well, memory comes in a variety of forms. First we have auditory memory (hearing memory), visual memory (remembering something that we see), tactile memory (touching memory - calling a number by touching the phone, but unable to recite the phone number without looking at the phone). These forms of memory are then placed in the short term category (remembering a phone number some just told you as you are dialing it) and long term memory (recalling events that happened more than 30 minutes ago).

Is memory important? To answer this question, all you have to do is to briefly speak to someone who has lost their memory abilities. There are a few case studies of individuals who suffered a head injury through an accident, neurological disorder, or cardiac related problem (stroke) and as a result of their injury, lost all short term memory. Fortunately, for most of us, these occurrences are actually quite rare. However, patients who have no short term memory abilities require constant nursing home care and can not be expected to take care of their own needs. This type of patient does not know when to eat, brush their teeth, or change their clothes. If you were introduced to an individual with no short term memory, within a few minutes the patient would ask who you were. They would have no recollection of just meeting you, let alone what the both of you had been talking about. This same patient may be able to hum a favorite song from long ago and recognize their wife of 20 years. But these examples are of remote (old) memories. Without constant care, these unfortunate individuals would have difficulty surviving. Patients who have short term memory abilities but have lost some of their long term memory actually do a bit better, though it is still frustrating. For many, recollections from childhood up until the accident or illness are just a blur if that. These individuals have big gaps in their own history. In some cases, they can not tell you what kind of an adult they were before the accident, it is only through stories from others that their history is tentatively weaved together.

It is true, memory is necessary for everyday living. It is necessary for each of us to survive and to love. Memory allows us to define ourselves as individuals and connect within society. Often times, it is something we take for granted like our heart beating, until it begins to fade or is unexpectedly gone. Accidents, illness, emotions and age are the enemies of our memory. The next few News Items will be dedicated to memory. We will explore the causes of memory changes and what you can do to improve yours. Stay tuned; and in the meantime, try working on a puzzle or engage in a lively discussion. Every little bit helps.