Memory loss is easy to forget

Ken Knepper

My father-in-law and I recently talked at length about memory loss and growing older.

He told a story about a friend and him hiding plastic Easter eggs for his friend’s 5-year-old grand-daughter. They counted 16 eggs before wandering around the back yard hiding them in assorted places.

The problem was that the little girl found 14 eggs but wasn’t able to locate the last two. That’s when my father-in-law and his friend realized they hadn’t a clue where to search, either.

After several minutes of looking around in vain, they gave up and chalked up the event as a lesson in writing things down.

But, it got him wondering about the future, also.

“I figured we’ll be able to hide our own Easter eggs in a couple of years,” he told me at the end of the story.

My wife has believed I began suffering from senility several years ago, because I once carried around my cellular phone while I searched the house for it.

At the time, I believed it was an isolated and honest mistake, created by our hand-held phones becoming an extension of our arms.

There are a host of other incidents all surrounding home improvement projects when my wife also believed I had memory issues. However, what she didn’t understand was that I am someone who constantly exercises caution, and I was simply planning things out. There was no need to remind me every couple of months.

But, my recent conversation got me thinking more about my own memory, which, in itself proves to my wife that I haven’t completely lost it.

The problem with memory is the sheer randomness of how one’s brain keeps track of things deemed significant or inconsequential. I can recall a phone number from a town where we lived when I was in third grade, but sometimes I have trouble recalling the four-digit pin number on my debit card as I stand in line at Dillon’s.

I read online a list of “fun facts” about memory and learned there are basically three types—long-term, sense memory and short-term.

Long-term memory is where events in the past are stored. For me that includes a few unpublishable moments with my best friend, because we haven’t reached a statutory limit, yet. Then, there are a few childhood family vacations tucked away, which include me singing songs I recorded from a television show onto a cassette deck.

All of them are great memories and warrant taking up significant brain space.

Sense memory enables you to do two things at once. My wife is convinced that most males lack this feature, solely based on a beta test of our sons and me. But, sense memory actually makes it possible for any one of us to listen to her while watching televised sports without missing a single topic.

And, as long as she doesn’t ask too many follow-up questions, it works well…

Finally, short-term memory is where you store things you won’t need very long, like random trivial commentary, such as astronauts cannot burp in space or that baby robins eat 14 feet of earthworms every day. Shopping lists also are included in the short-term memory category, although some might argue I never memorized one … ever, which might explain the completely random grocery items in the pantry.

It’s only possible to hold about seven things in short-term memory at any given time, which may benefit my future arguments for why I’m sometimes seen as forgetful. I’m simply filled to the brim.

An interesting factoid I learned was that a person’s long-term memory shuts down during sleep, and it’s why dreams fade quickly once you wake up. And, television can actually harm your brain if you spend more than two hours viewing because it can cause your neurons to stop firing. Many scientists even believe it enhances the chances of Alzheimer’s.

But, whatever the case, I felt bad for my father-in-law and his missing-egg incident, but I’m certainly not ready to accept that I may be following the same fate.

Sure, it would be good to find my car keys every once in a while without tearing apart the house, only to learn they were still in my coat pocket, but overall, I believe I still have it together and will continue to do so for many years.

I considered sharing with my father-in-law some immortal words I read from a recent Facebook post, “Not only is my short-term memory horrible, but my short-term memory is horrible.”

It’s too bad I forgot.

Ken Knepper, who admits to recalling the lyrics to most 1980s rock songs, but sometimes can’t remember why he went to the kitchen, can be reached at:

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