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Forgetting, cannot recollect: Warning signs of Alzheimer’s

Oh dear, I’m sorry I forgot to bring that book today, I’ll bring it tomorrow without fail. Is it ok by you? The phrases I forgot to...I forget the details... are so commonly heard and used by almost every second person nowadays.

What do you think it is? A memory dysfunction, is it? A frightening situation although some of us hardly realise it and are sometimes, totally unaware of it.

Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Puang Yong, Director Brain Tumor Clinic, Singapore recently observed, is fast spreading in society. Age is not the issue. It can happen to anyone.

Beware! Alzheimer leads to a progressive loss of memory in two forms, where there could be loss of memory for occurrences prior to some event or loss of memory for events following an injury as in Korsakoff’s syndrome, a disease that affects long term alcoholics resulting in memory impairment.

Thus it is clear that alcoholics and drug addicts would suffer the consequences to a greater degree than others, including the aged population as the disease is associated with old age too, which may leave us Sri Lankans with many Alzheimer’s sufferers in the near future.

Everyone of us want and even crave to have a ‘good memory’, don’t we? What is memory? It is the process by which we encode, store and retrieve information.

Forgetting is essential for us too, for the proper functioning of memory, and the ability to forget inconsequential details about experiences, people and objects allow us to avoid being burdened unnecessarily.

However, the problem of forgetting is said to be associated with two major theories namely loss of information through non-use or interference which is a process where information in the memory displaces or blocks out other information, preventing its recall or through the decay theory which assumes that when new material is learned a memory trace or engram (which is an actual physical chance in the brain) occurs.

In the case of decay the trace it is said to simply fade away with nothing left behind, but is not however not the complete explanation for forgetting. Specialists believe that interference is the key process in forgetting (Potter 1990), it is said that we mainly forget things because new memories interfere with the retrieval of old ones and not because the memory trace has decayed.

Psychologists say that there are two sorts of interferences, which occur in a person’s brain, proactive interference which is when information learned earlier interferes with the recalling of material to which one is exposed later while retroactive interference is a situation when new information interferes with the recalling of information because of later exposure to different material.

However, seeing the need to find solutions to this grave problem of forgetting psychologists have developed a number of ‘specific techniques to improve the memory power of the individual such as using the keyword technique to memorise foreign vocabulary, applying the method of loci to learn lists, using encoding specific phenomenon, organising text material and lecture notes and practising enough so that over learning, studying and rehearsing past the point of initial mastery which can be applied on children as well as adults. These techniques have all proved to help people minimise forgetting information.

So, if you are in the habit of ‘forgetting information or recalling incidents try out some of the suggested techniques and put it into practice to perfect the situation, or seek professional help today in order to improve your memory power.

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