Sunday, January 06, 2008

Memory - what we lose

Because my mother suffered (we all suffered) from Alzheimer's and as I watched her memory fade, I am particularly interested in information / research into memory and how it works. Today's Sunday Parade Magazine, has an article by Martha Weinman Lear "Why do we Forget Things?" that outlines three kinds of memory, and this seems a clue to Mom's decline:

1-procedural memory (how to walk, eat, tie a shoe)
2-semantic memory (what it is? What ARE eyeglasses?)
3-episodic memory (what I did yesterday)

With Mom, she first lost the episodic memory, forgetting what she did yesterday or five minutes ago. Then she lost what Lear calls semantic memory, forgetting what a spoon was. She could hold the utensil but did not recall that there was a concept to the bowl-shape of the spoon that required it to be held a certain way in order to work. Finally she lost procedural memory, forgetting how to walk or even how/when to swallow.

Lear reassures readers that memory loss is normal with aging (ugh) and says:
After all, how important is it (how does it help you survive in the world) to remember the name of that restaurant you ate at last night? What is important to remember is what “eating” means and how to eat.
But isn't the latter exactly what we do fear? It's what happened to my mother, so I know what it looks like. And the lack of knowing how to eat is indeed fatal - leading to aspirated pneumonia, which is what she died of. So -- we can lose a lot. And even if it's normal, that is not as reassuring as Lear makes it seem.



Blogger Michael Faris said...

I agree that normalizing something doesn't necessarily take away fear. We all die, but most of us still fear death, no matter how "normal" death is.

12:42 PM  

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