Washington DCOver ten years ago my son took me to see the movie Memento, which he’d seen several times already and was sure I would enjoy. It was an intentionally disjointed story that I couldn’t follow completely, so, while it was interesting, I’m not sure I enjoyed it. One theme of the film, however, was an exploration of memory.** At the beginning of the movie, we see Leonard, the story’s protagonist, killing Teddy, whom he believes murdered his wife. Leonard, however, has anterograde amnesia, meaning that he can remember nothing except the last few minutes of his past. He’s compensated for his impairment by keeping a record of his past in notes, photos, and tattoos. The movie proceeds with the scenes leading up to the killing in reverse order, which puts us, the viewer, in the same mental place as Leonard: As we watch each scene, we, too, know nothing of the past.
I turns out that Leonard has completely misunderstood the implications of his notes, photos, and tattoos. Later in the movie, we learn that the person he eventually kills is actually innocent of the murder. At the end of the movie, we find out that Leonard’s diabetic wife was not even murdered but died of an accidental insulin overdose.
Memory is the foundation of rational action, of course. But it’s more. As we follow Leonard backward in his life, we get some sense of the utter confusion, the disorientation and, in this case, the horror of being able to remember only the most recent past.
My loss of memory is, of course, in nowhere near the same category as Leonard’s. Nevertheless, I get glimpses of what it’s like to be him. For instance:
- I don’t know this person standing in front of me is; but should I?
- Have I already told this story to my son-in-law during his two-day visit or was it someone else I told?
- As I talk, is my line of reasoning based on a fact I’m sure of or on a speculation I’ve seen on the Internet?
At our leadership team meeting after church this week, I had only the foggiest idea of what had happened in the previous meeting. The other three people had each brought a paper they’d clearly read in advance, so I must have received it, too. Had I just forgotten to read it and bring it; or did I somehow not obtain it; or had I thrown it away altogether? Although the others have mostly gotten used to my impairment, I was still embarrassed that I’m not creating more memory aids to make sure things like this don’t happen. What bothers me most is this low-level disorientation. Am I throwing things away that I should keep or just forgetting them? Why don’t I get around to creating the memory aids? How many of my questions are things I should already know? Should I even participate in the discussion?
I’m not really confused, just sometimes a little lost. I’m sure lots of other people experience some of this same disorientation. Nevertheless, my questions to myself can sometimes make me wonder just who I’ve been. It’s just unnerving enough to give me images of what it might be like when memory really slips away.
When I was in my 30s, I once went to a school board meeting. There was a man behind me who looked familiar. I thought, "I know I know that man. But who is he?" I hadn't a clue.ReplyDelete
After some time, it hit me. I worked at a newspaper, and he was the sports reporter. I'd seen him every day for six years, and had I seen him at a baseball game, I would have recognized him. But I didn't think of him as having any interest in the school board.
I've always had trouble recognizing people out of context. If I had been 70 when this happened, I would have worried that I was developing dementia. (Of course, maybe I was.)
Yes, one of the confusing things about early cognitive impairment is that many of the symptoms are very similar to episodes that people without cognitive impairment suffer.Delete
Why not ask your lovely wife to assist you with these memory aids? Then she will be able to help you work through the lapses. I know you want to be in charge, but now is a good time to share your worries with her.ReplyDelete
Marja a has such a gentle, loving face. I know she is waiting for you to ask.
Yes, having a partner is of infinite value. Marja and I have been talking intimately about how we face whatever this is together.Delete
Hi, vis-à-vis your comment "Creating my memory aids"--these are just 'suggestions' that may/may not be useful, so ignore what isn't of use. Since my age has now caught up with my original brain trauma, I have had to "create my own memory aids" because "most" people don't know how to do it FOR me, and/or I may forget what they suggested! So, some types of creating my own aids as follows, using additional SENSES to help:ReplyDelete
* fuzziness. I put a fuzzy circle on my house keys, so when I'm about to close the front door, standing outside, I touch the "fuzzy" thing which helps me to remember I've locked the door AND still have my keys in my hand. Also, after working in the back yard, I've forgotten to lock the back door as I exited the front door. So I got a fuzzy bear on a chain, and go to the front door BEFORE going out the back door, hanging the bear there as a sign that the back door will be unlocked. THEN, as I go to exit the front door later on, if the fuzzy bear is still hanging there, it means I DID NOT YET lock the back door.
* Visual: Gas for the car: When the gas level gets down to 1/4 tank left, I take a hanging tag from my glove compartment and place it in front of me in the car, over the car radio switch. It 'reminds' me that I need to get gas, which is easy to forget when one's doing other things. When the gas is filled, I put the tag away again.
*Visual finances: I have one huge Styrofoam white board for each bill I have to pay, with account numbers, phone numbers for pay-by-phone, monthly due dates, etc. on the top. I take each board to the phone or checkbook with me, write all the info down on the whiteboard for the month, and then put it back with all the other boards. [I realize many people just use bank accounts or pay by phone, etc., but there are always some 'extra' ones which need to be done by hand, so I have these boards for this. It means I therefore don't get paid and unpaid bills confused, and have their due dates correct, etc.) For myself, to avoid bank account numbers and computer issues, I do use the automatic payment system with as many accounts as possible, which is helpful, obviously.
Visual: I use the "one note" computer program, or the Sticky Note sheet on my desktop, to write my TODO list for the next day, and then print it out and put it in my purse. This is in addition to my date book. With the Sticky Notes, I see them whenever I go to the computer for that day, which helps me to remember what I'm doing and when. [Other date book processes might be more useful to people, but massaging the date book system definitely helps to keep track of things, even if duplicative.]
ANYWAY, these are suggestions NOT of what anyone should do themselves, but of WAYS to, as you suggest, "Create Memory Aids" for ONESELF. Having done a great deal of teaching in my life, I just see myself as my "other" student whom I'm now teaching!
Thanks again for your columns, which are very insightful and useful!
Thanks very much, Sodium. One issue for me is that I will remember things I have to do at odd times and then forget them later. So whatever I remember goes on the list that I look at several times a day. Sometimes I'll put my belt pack or backpack on the floor where I'll trip over it on the way out. We each need to instruct ourselves and help one another.Delete
I have all of my insurances automatically withdrawn all on the same day of the month. I have all of my monthly regular bills on automatic payments. So if an unusual bill comes up, I get it in the mail, and since I'm on the computer a lot anyway, I just go to my bank and pay it immediately, then shred the bill.ReplyDelete
My Mom was always a bit absent minded through my entire childhood and adulthood. She would occasionally put a gallon of milk in the dishwasher, or a cupboard. When calling one of us kids and dogs, she'd have to go through the entire list of names to get the right one. She didn't like to go to the Day Old Bread Store, calling it "the used food store." LOL. Some people are just absentminded. Thankfully I haven't inherited it from my Mom, so far as I know.
Everybody that worries about forgetting things should find a good set of reminders and keep using them. If someone is cognitively having difficulties, the last thing to go is the habits. If you have a habit of doing something a certain way, its usually easier to keep doing the same habits as every other day.