Few diseases are associated with as great a concern as dementia. Dealing with the devastating disease is also discussed in novels and books, in a particularly poignant way in “Still Alice – My Life Without Saturday,” based on the novel of the same name by American neurologist Lisa Genova. Julianne Moore, who won an Academy Award for her lead role, plays brilliant linguist Alice, who suffers from an early form of Alzheimer’s disease in her early fifties. The film impressively describes her battle against forgetfulness, which the super-intelligent woman ultimately loses – like all Alzheimer’s patients. In her new non-fiction book, The Gift of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, Lisa Genova explains how our memory works and offers valuable advice on how to keep it functional.
The author begins with a reassuring view: It is not a sign of dementia if memory capacity diminishes with age. It’s normal to have trouble remembering names or forget why we entered the room. However, one of the most common causes of inability to remember is not forgetting at all, but rather a lack of attention: when you do not memorize something correctly and there is no trace of memory at all. On the other hand, we are especially good at remembering things, people, or situations that have emotional meaning to us. The more important something is to us and the more attention we pay to it, the better we can remember it.
There are many reasons why something that was remembered cannot be remembered later. For example, when a word is literally on the tip of our tongue, the more we think about it, the more difficult it becomes. The reason for this is that the first incorrect association is gradually reinforced with more thought. Memory is lured into the wrong path, so to speak, and is blocked as a result. If we can let go of our thoughts, the information we are looking for usually returns to us effortlessly.
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