Memory Clutter is a much nicer name for dementia?

Increasingly I have found that if I go to do something in another room when I get there, I forget why I am there. Then of course there is the moment when seeing a good friend approach in the street, I simply cannot recall her name. This morning I could not remember the word, ‘bunion’. It came to me about 30 minutes later when I had moved on to other thoughts and so I wondered why bunion had popped into my mind.

As my mother had vascular dementia at the end of her life I am always concerned that it might run in the family which probably makes me very sensitive to this disease. However, I think the worry of dementia is something that creeps into everyone’s mind as we get older because inevitably we start to forget things.

Why is it I can never remember my husband’s mobile number but I can remember the telephone number of the house I grew up in until I was 10 years old? It’s not as if I would have phoned my home number very much at that age. And right now it would be so much better to remember my husband’s number in case of emergency when I have probably lost my own mobile. My brain does not memorise it perhaps because subconsciously I know it is in the contact list on my phone so I do not need to remember it.

So is it mobile phones, Google and the rest of the internet that has made our memories lazy or as one friend put it, “Darling, you just have memory clutter”? Our filing cabinets are full of old memories and so new ones have nowhere to go. Don’t I wish I could have a clear-out and get rid of all the memories that are no longer interesting and just remember the name of the person I sat next to yesterday evening and had a long and interesting chat with.

Our house is full of clutter due in no small degree to 4 children and 4 dogs living here on and off. We have little bowls of items found around the place that needs to be put back in their correct place. These sit on my kitchen worktop whereas I have friends who have completely clear worktops. Are they the ones with well-ordered minds, every memory labelled and stored in the correct place and so easy to access?

One doctor said to me before my mother had been officially diagnosed with vascular dementia after I told them about my mother not answering a question for days that by the time she did I had forgotten the question, that it was simply her recall that was faulty. She had the memory stored but she couldn’t locate it and it took her more time to sift through all the other ‘memory files’.

It happened once when I was chatting with my mother about her courtship with my father. She was enjoying the conversation and remembering everything. So I asked her how long she had known my father before they got married. She went quiet, became flustered and so we moved on to something completely different like what she hoped to have for lunch. I had learned not to upset her when she couldn’t remember something.

About two weeks later I was chatting with her about the apples I had brought her from my garden and how no one knew what they were called. They tasted like Pink Lady but looked like Cox’s. I asked her what she thought of them and she calmly said, “6 months – January to June”. I was confused and it was only when she said, “Some would say it was a whirlwind romance, but after the war, if we met a man we liked we hung onto them as there were not many about.” And I clicked.

Our almost complete reliance on the internet as a substitute for memory must also be the issue. Apparently, 91% of us use a phone to help us remember stuff. In the UK last year we spent more than 3½ hours on the internet every day. There were varying statistics for this but when one said 22 years over an adult lifetime I was horrified.

Don’t get me wrong Annabel & Grace relies on everyone reading our online magazine using the internet so we are not ones to criticise its use. However, are we missing out and perhaps, if we were not overloading our brains with information, and just spent some time quietly sitting and giving our brain a rest then maybe this would give our brains time to do some memory decluttering. I think the expression, ‘I need to go and lie down in a darkened room,’ is appropriate as we need that time for some brain housework. Perhaps that is what Mindfulness really is – another word for some decluttering time?

When it comes to how we can help this fading memory the professional advice was simple – STIMULATION! Learn an instrument, learn a new language, do the crossword or Sudoko, learn to play bridge or some other stimulating game but do not relax and let go!! And there was I thinking we should give our brain a rest from overstimulation. So now I am as confused as ever.

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Mary Jenkins
Mary Jenkins
9 months ago

What a relief! Well done Annabel and Grace. I have been caring for my husband, now in the advanced stages of Alzheimers, for 6 years, since diagnosis. I have always hated the fact that people refer to “Alzheimers or dementia “ in conversation, often in his hearing. I’ve preferred to use the term memory loss, but memory clutter is so much more acceptable and less demeaning. This is the cruellest of diseases, to watch someone you love lose their ability to function, to express themselves and be totally reliant on others is heart breaking. So, anything that helps with understanding and the means to approach anyone suffering with this awful condition is very welcome, thank you, Mary.

Bronwyn Reeves
Bronwyn Reeves
9 months ago

Regarding remembering the telephone number at our childhood home, yes, I can rattle off all the numbers my parents had, but am less certain of the phone number my husband and I had for the first 10 years we were married. I think that’s more to do with the way we learn. Back in the late 50s, we all answered the phone with the number, whereas these days we just say “hello”. Constant repetition is a great help when learning (see also Times Tables) I can still recall the phone numbers of many of my childhood friends, but I always hear in my head, the way their parents would say the number when they answered.