” Where Did I Leave My Glasses? “
The What, When and Why of Normal Memory Loss
A few weeks ago my husband dashed off to an evening meeting. Shortly afterwards, he rang me, sounding stressed. “Can you please find my glasses for me? A friend is passing by shortly – she can pick them up and bring them along to the meeting.” My irritation with him dissolved into fits of laughter when I eventually found the glasses. Where were they? Yes, sitting right on top of the book he was then reading, called “Where Did I Leave My Glasses?” by Martha Weinman Lear.
One of the realisations which don’t dawn until the fifties – I speak for myself here, maybe you are ninety-six and still in denial! – is that it’s all downhill physically from now on. I think writer Richard Holloway is right when he talks in one of his books (surprise, surprise, can’t remember which one….) about the importance of starting to cultivate fortitude once you reach your fifties. Time is going to win, and you, small speck of ephemeral matter, are going to lose – no matter what you do to try and stave off the aging process.
An indestructible sense of humour is a huge asset in facing this truth. So is information which cheers you up rather than depressing you. Everyone over the age of fifty should therefore read this book. It succeeds in being simultaneously very informative and very entertaining on the topic of normal memory loss, a subject which generates intermittent worry for, I would estimate, at least 99 per cent of us who are baby-boomers and older.
Martha Weinman Lear, former articles editor and staff writer with the New York Times Magazine, is well qualified to research and present information and opinion on the topic of memory loss, having written extensively before on social and medicine-related topics.
I infer from the book that she is a person past the first flush of youth. Here she is, inviting us to
“Consider our own memory situations, yours and mine.
Here is mine:
Adjectives elude me. Verbs escape me. Nouns, especially proper nouns, totally defeat me. I may meet you at a party, have a long, lovely conversation with you, be charmed by you, want to know you forever, and a day later not remember your name….”
The book is laugh-aloud entertainment, rooted in real conversations with real people all of whom including herself have funny disclosures to make centering round the five top responses to the question she put to all the lay and expert interviewees in the book, ie ‘What can you most reliably depend upon yourself to forget?’
These five were:
Where did I leave my glasses?
What was I just saying?
What did I come in here for?
What did I ask you to remind me to do?
What’s her(his, its) name?
Lear’s book may be wittily written, but it is also thorough and well-informed in exploring aspects of normal memory and memory loss, including why we are actually wired to forget. She covers a range of topics including sex differences in memory function and deterioration, different types of memory, how to train the aging brain into being more efficient at remembering – and most fascinating of all, the future of memory enhancement in a culture where increasingly we are living longer than biology built our bodies to last.
I found “Where Did I Leave My Glasses?” enormously comforting and reassuring in the face of the spectre that haunts our increasingly long-lived Western populations – Altzheimer’s. Lear’s book’s central message is that most memory lapses beginning in middle age are universal: a normal part of the inevitable process of aging.
In short, don’t worry if you don’t know where you left your glasses. But do worry – and seek help – if you can’t remember what your glasses are for….
650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page