Holy Moses, I just found myself looking at a photo of one of Australia’s ex-prime ministers, and it took me a good 30 seconds to retrieve his name from the diabolically disorganised data filing system in my head. I have no idea who’s doing the sorting up there, but I think they’ve gone AWOL. I’ve always been paranoid that my brain cells are diminishing at a rapid pace, and it amuses me when my 95-year-old grandpa tells me stories of standing up to do something, before forgetting what he stood up to do. Geez grandpa, this is old news for me, I started doing that ten years ago.
I even went to my doctor about a year back to ask if he thought I might have an early onset of Alzheimer’s. He’s known me for a while, especially my hypochondriac behaviours, so he took my question seriously and ran me through 30 questions beginning with the date, where I was etc etc. He then moved onto remembering three different articles that I had to repeat at the end, writing something on a piece of paper and folding it in half (or something like that – of course I can’t exactly remember) and around 20 others basic tasks. At the end he told me I’d answered all the questions correctly and was the fastest person he’d known to do so.
But why then did I just stare at a photo of John Howard and take so long to remember his name? The better question may be, why was I staring at a photo of John Howard, but honestly I feel like my brain is behaving the way my computer does when the start up disk becomes full. I don’t even know exactly what this means, but programs start shutting down unexpectedly, documents take a while to open, I have to click on things twice just to make something happen. This stuff is happening in my head. I’m reacting more slowly, words take longer to formulate, and god help me if I have to remember someone’s name that I haven’t seen in a long time.
I attribute the slow performance to a couple of things:
- There’s too much in there and I need to create space.
- I haven’t been exercising my brain muscles enough so they’re losing their strength.
If it’s an issue of the first instance – how does one create more space? I don’t have a USB port by the side of my temple I can download from. And if I did, my filing system would probably be as bad as the one I keep for my regular documentation. Is there such thing as a mental reboot, a defrag for our brains that doesn’t cause us to lose important data?
If it’s an issue of the second instance I kind of get it. I haven’t utilised the tactical side of my brain for a while. I could literally go to work in a semiconscious state and still perform the majority of my duties to their desired capacity. But is this really making a difference? I have mastered the art of remembering the model, style and location of four different shoes at a time. The problem is sometimes when I come out to deliver them, I can’t for the life of me remember who they were for. I’ve literally stood on the floor with a perplexed expression for 15 seconds until the person grabbed the shoes themselves, or at least waved me over. I have terrible facial recognition. My most feared question in the world is, “have you guys met?” I always wait for the other person to respond, and if there’s any hint of deliberation, I always lean to the affirmative response.
My best friend Penny in Melbourne, who has known me since childhood, is so aware of my failing memory that she provides me with a full briefing before we catch up with old friends.
“Now you know Kass got married and had twins, Jules broke up with her boyfriend, and Ash and Jodie bought a house.”
These are people I’ve known for years, but I did at one point forget that Kass was pregnant, and if Jules hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend I wouldn’t have remembered his name. I know this doesn’t sound that drastic, but trust me it’s gotten bad. My worst nightmare would be attending a school reunion. Throw me into a tank of sharks any day. I’d be more out of depth making idle chitchat with absolute strangers I supposedly knew than taking my chances with those giant fish.
I’ve often been told the way to keep my brain active is by doing puzzles like Sudoku or crosswords. I know there’s also memory exercises one can adopt that use visual stimuli to enable one to recollect incredible amounts of data. But I always forget to do them, or at least that’s my excuse.
I’m certainly open to suggestions, but felt compelled to share my experience so that my 95-year-old grandpa and anyone else who stands up and forgets what they’re doing can put their mind at ease. It happens to the best of us!