As we age we all start forgetting things. But there’s a big difference between this normal memory loss of the aging process and dementia. As a specialist said at a talk I heard two years ago, there’s nothing wrong with forgetting where you put your reading glasses, but when you find them in the refrigerator, then you need to start to worry. 28% of the population age 85 and over has some form of mental disorder. This includes a variety of forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. The brain is a strange and wonderful instrument. A recent article in National Geographic Magazine (November 2007) describes the extremes. On one hand a man who suffered brain damage from a herpes simplex virus can’t remember anything new after it happens. He lives a moment and it disappears. A similar case was described in a New Yorker article (September 24, 2007) about Clive Wearing whose wife Deborah wrote a memoir “Forever Today.” Clive lost brain function as a result of a herpes encephalitis infection. He can’t remember anything after it happens, but has retained his ability to play classical music on a piano.
The other extreme described in the National Geographic article is a woman who remembers everything that ever happened to her. She can recall an event for any particular time and date in her life. So take your choice. Would you rather remember too little or too much?