Editor’s Page

By Alejandro Grattan

Did I Remember to Tell You That I Forgot?


A few weeks ago, over coffee at the LCS, I told a pal that I was a little worried about starting to lose what has always been one of my few attributes, an excellent memory. Could this presage the arrival of Alzheimer’s disease or was it simply the normal loss that comes with approaching decrepitude?

My friend, addicted to pontificating on whatever subject is under discussion, said, “Look, it’s like this: An older guy goes to a grocery store but can’t remember all the items of food he went to buy. That’s normal memory loss that comes with aging. Another guy goes shopping at the same store and does remember every single item of food he went to buy—but can’t remember what he should do with food. That’s more serious.”

Leaving the LCS, I felt a bit better until I got to the door and realized that I had forgotten where I had parked my car. I was lingering near the doorway when my friend came out and asked me why I was looking so pensive. Not wanting to appear stone stupid (again) I said I was thinking about what he had said earlier.

He didn’t buy it. “Can’t remember where you parked your car, eh?”

“You’re crazy,” I retorted, not so brilliantly.

“But maybe you didn’t bring your car today. Maybe you walked here. Or maybe you don’t even have a car. Now that’s serious. So don’t bother going to the grocery store today!” And with that, my friend flashed a smirk and was gone.

But I did remember what he said and that triggered a little research. So on the same subject (I think), here’s what Aaron Nelson, PH.D, a Harvard-trained psychologist, has to say (minus the sarcasm) on the topic:

Forgetting the name of someone or why you have moved from one room to the next is usually a lapse in concentration and not earmarks of early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

More serious would be forgetting the name of a family member or how to use a common household appliance. This type of dementia usually begins to produce observable symptoms in the late 60s or early 70s. But abnormal changes in memory function can also be caused by depression, sleep disorders, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal changes.

As for how best to combat memory loss, Dr. Nelson thinks that the best way to retain large amounts of information is to rehearse it periodically. Associating new information with previously learned material is also helpful.

The most common memory complaint is the inability to remember names—but remembering the name of someone you have just met is quite difficult unless you make a specific effort. On top of that, most names fall into the category of “low-contrast” information. The name Bill is not all that different than the name Bob or Tom. The failure to remember a name is usually a failure of attention, not a failure of memory.

So, I hope this serves to make our readers feel a little better. As for my Lakeside friend, I know that when he reads this, he’ll complain that I did not credit him by name as the person responsible for prompting this article. But when he does, I’ll pretend that I have no recollection of our conversation nor can I even remember who he is.

Now that will definitely make me feel a little better.

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