At one time my memory was exceptional. I could even remember details of some conversations I had for years. This ability was very beneficial in both my personal and business relationships.
But I still remember (ironic for the topic of this post) the day everything changed. I was around 44 years-old and talking to a coworker about a possible change to one of our products. He made a suggestion and I said that wouldn’t work based on a conversation I had with one of our engineers a few weeks ago. He asked me who had said that.
Who? Who indeed. That conversation was very recent and there were only a few engineers working on the project, yet I could not remember who I had talked to. Drew a blank. A big blank. And so it began …..
And once your memory starts to fade, it keeps fading at a slow, steady, almost imperceptible pace. Until you forget something massively important that embarrasses you or costs you money, or both. All your life you thought it was funny when “old” people couldn’t remember things. You are no longer laughing, are you?
Memory loss can be more consequential for middle-age people than it is for the elderly. When you are really old, you have fewer important details to remember and people helping you to do so. But middle-agers have important responsibilities both at home, and especially at work, where an active, vibrant memory is necessary. Except you don’t have a lively memory any more. You used to have it, but now it’s getting worn out and sporadic. And unlike your phone, you can’t upgrade your brain to the newest, freshest, model, Brain 2.0 for example.
Your mind is similar to a computer and you are losing ROM and RAM on a constant basis. For guys, it’s the second type of RAM you are losing. Your gigabytes are turning into megabytes and will soon be kilobytes. After that you will be wearing a bib and someone will be feeding you bites. And this whole aging process just bites. Bites big time.
Your long-term memory is fading and your short-term memory is sporadic and highly unreliable. It is interesting that the memories of years past are still buried deep inside your brain. But you can’t access them until an old friend says something to jar or jog your memory.
I will now attempt to describe how this short-term memory loss makes an impact on everyday life. This will a public service to my younger readers, a preview of what is coming down the road. (Spoiler Alert! It’s a horror film)
The Short List
When you were younger, your short-term memory functioned like a multi-cell spreadsheet. You could fill in the many cells with all the things you needed to remember. Over time the number of your cells, in this case brain cells, has decreased. Now your spreadsheet contains one cell. You can only remember one item at a time. How does this play out in real life? Two examples:
- I needed to walk out to the street and get the newspaper, a distance of about 40 steps. Half way there I realize that I needed to take a letter, located by the door, to the mailbox, located by the newspaper box. I walk back into the house, get the letter, and put it in mailbox. When I get back in the house, I realize I forgot to get the newspaper, which I then retrieve. So, it ended up taking me two and a half trips to accomplish something that should only take one.
- And this one-cell syndrome is responsible for the great game “Why the Heck Did I Come Into This Room?” You realize you need to clip a coupon from the magazine in the front room. You enter “Coupon” in your one brain-cell spreadsheet. Then replace that with “Front Room”. But when you get to the front room you are clueless as to why you are even there. You just stand there staring into space as if you are on some mind-altering drug. Your mind has been altered all right, but by age, not drugs. Later that day, you see the magazine and realize that is why you entered the room hours earlier. But you still have to leaf through the magazine to remember why you needed it in the first place.
The Name Game
- It is almost impossible to remember new people’s names when introduced. Your brain has trouble storing the information because you only have that one-cell available. And if you are introduced to three people at one time, you’re so screwed because your brain gets totally overwhelmed.
- You run into someone at the mall you haven’t seen for years but have no idea who they are. You strike up a conversation and hope they have forgotten your name also. I feel so guilty when the conversation starts out “Don! It’s so great to see you!” Uh, it’s great to see you too, Dude!
- Even when you remember a name, it’s hard to retain it. Last year, I ran into a guy I had not seen in 25 years. I remembered his name, but he did not remember mine. He told me his number was in the book and I should call him sometime for lunch. By the time I got home, I had totally forgotten his name and it took me four days of trying before I was able to remember it – and yes, I then wrote it down.
- Used to be you would receive an important bill and enter the date and where you put in into your multi-celled spreadsheet. Before it was due you always found the bill and paid it. Those days are long gone. Now I have a special container for all my bills – except I forget to check it regularly. Last year I was almost late paying an important tax invoice because I hadn’t checked the container for three weeks, and of course I had forgotten all about the bill!
- Now the calendar function on the computer is a godsend for people my age, provided you remember to actually enter the events into it. And sometimes it can nearly give you a heart attack when a reminder appears on the screen for a long-forgotten event that is starting in ten minutes! I have even heard of instances where some guys (but not me) have forgotten their wife’s birthday (definitely not talking about me) but are reminded by a Facebook birthday notification. Is that funny or what? But this never, ever, happened to me. It was other guys I heard that one from. And it is funny, so funny. Ha Ha!
A few weeks ago, I’m frantically searching for my phone as my wife and I are getting ready to leave for an event.
Wife: What are you looking for?
Me: My phone. It was here just a moment ago, but now it’s gone!
Wife: Uh, look in your hand.
Now she did miss a great opportunity. She could have dialed my number and then recorded how high I jumped.
- Then there is a case of “Don’s Magical Pants”. Last year, two new pairs of jeans magically appeared in my closet. I have no idea how they got there. I don’t remember ordering them, receiving them in the mail, trying them on, putting them in the wash, or hanging them in the back of the closet. And they are great jeans because they are my first jeans ever that contain lycra, which means they really hug my butt. I would say shape my butt, however, at my age my butt only comes in one shape, LARGE.
- You have those items which you store in a “special place”. You could remember where you put stuff when you were younger, but now this is similar to a squirrel burying nuts. There is an item I bought three years ago that I still cannot locate!
If you are away from the office for any period of time, this serves as a memory eraser causing you to be totally unaware of what you were working on when you return. Two examples:
- Unless you write a “to do” list Friday afternoon, you can return to work Monday morning thinking you have a light work day when in fact you have a ton of work to get finished. And always, always!, check your computer calendar first thing Monday morning, or you can totally forget about the important meeting that day. Not that I have ever, ever, done that. I heard about this one from other people. Not me, others.
- One time I worked feverishly on this important report, sending it off just hours before leaving on an extremely relaxing beach vacation. Soon after I returned, we were reviewing my report in a big meeting when my boss says:
“Don, the analysis on page 7 is brilliant. Please explain to everybody how you got to that conclusion.”
I hurriedly find page 7 and start reading. I think to myself: Wow, this analysis is good! I wonder who did it? Oh no, …. So, I quickly go into my memory bank to find information about the report. But the mental folder has been wiped clean except for one file. I quickly open it, but all I hear in my head is:
Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take you to
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go ...*
Me: I used the Kokomo method, sir.
Boss: The Kokomo method?
Me: Yes, it’s a very granular analysis. You run the numbers fast and then you take it slow. That’s how you really know, drill down with Kokomo.
Just Write Some Notes!
When you start to forget things, people suggest writing notes. This still works well when you can still remember most stuff and the notes are few. But as the memory fade continues, you need to write more notes and this system has some drawbacks. Here is a photo of my personal desk. I assure you that although I did spread out some of the note piles, I did not add onepiece of paper for the pic. Unfortunately, I think the picture is a valid representation of what the inside my brain looks like.
You Are Not Intelligent - Just Old
There was a study done last year that concluded forgetfulness is a sign of intelligence. That might be true when you are younger, but if you are late middle-age, forgetfulness is a sign you are old. Understand? You are not intelligent, you are just old. So quit posting this meme on Facebook.
I had so many great jokes I wanted to include in this post. Some of my greatest writing ever. But unfortunately, I forgot all those witty quips. It’s a good thing too, because they were so funny they would have literally made your pee your pants. But most importantly, the last thing I want to say is, uh yeah, okay ……. Well, let's just end it here.
* Lyrics by the Beach Boys