By John Thomas Dodds
Notwithstanding the pickling and pruning of the average older person the most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of the Procedural, Episodic, Working, and Semantic memory. The functioning or lack of is uniquely personal and can be of some concern. Personally this memory/recall thing doesn’t really bother me until I think about it. If you live long enough all the closets in the upper house become cluttered with stuff you only go looking for when something or someone plants a seed, otherwise out of sight, out of mind.
I know I’m not alone when I leave my mind behind—climbing the stairs, entering a room going after something that, just an interminable second ago, was the most important priority, focus, quest on my agenda, only to return to the origin of the thought to re-enact what it might have been that I was after.
Perhaps it’s not that my motor skills are any less vibrant than when I was younger—I still remember how to ride a bike, its just that I’m not all that interested anymore in pedaling about, and I still could walk, talk and chew gum at the same time if it weren’t for my dentures. When it comes to how to do stuff I may have forgotten a few things, but now I know how to find it on YouTube or Wikihow.com.
Early grade school left me with just one off the top of my head episodic memory: the little old lady teaching grade 5 periodically zoning out and starting to take her clothes off in the front of the class, and someone always running to get a nun. Those mental tags about where, when and how information is picked up don’t sit out there on a garage sale table waiting to be plucked, they have to be searched for, and the search gets a little more interesting with the ageing process.
Working at trying to manipulate the present is like trying to alter the past, and processing information is more work than the curmudgeon in me generally wants to deal with. Irritability comes on when decision making demands a perceived unreasonableness. I know if I pay attention I just might learn a thing or two, and if I’m lucky it will stick.
Seemingly patience has become my patron saint of forgetfulness. It allows me to abdicate responsibility in the land-of-forget-me-nots where grey cells become the dandruff of should haves and oops, maybe, if only I had remembered what I … Sometimes it’s just lazy mind. With the esposa a walking rolodex, I don’t really have to dig deep in the recesses of the skull for the names of people that I meet, and when searching for the meaning of things, Google has usurped my semantic memory, transferring recall from my cerebral cortex to my fingertips.
Do we really need to remember every name, place, event, taste, smell, song etc., why not take every new encounter as a surprise—a fresh face, a familiar but exotic smell, a subtle and refreshing taste, an exquisite moment, the feeling brought on by sound of the Moonlight Sonata. I have learned, and keep reminding myself, I need only to be the keeper of the world around me to relive the memory of all that I have known and cared for. I need to be joyful of memory and open to what comes along when it does, and when it does I’ll be sitting in the first pew, knowing it will unfold in its own time at the altar of love.