So much is being said in the news about dementia that I thought we should discuss why being occasionally forgetful is not such a concern. To the contrary, our memory may not always be so important. A recent article explains how forgetting is actually useful. By forgetting information that is stale, we are enabling ourselves to remember new things. Our brains make us forget outdated, irrelevant information so that we won’t be confused. A recent article in the journal Neuron, states memory is actually like a list of rules that help us make better decisions. Therefore, our brains discard information that might confuse us, or information that leads us in the wrong direction.
University of Toronto Professor, Blake Richards, authored the Neuron study. He explained that we have yet to find the limits of what the human brain can store, and there’s more than enough room for us to remember everything. Still, the brain actually spends energy making us forget, by generating new neurons that “overwrite” the old ones, or by weakening the connections between neurons.
Interestingly enough, forgetting old information can make us more efficient. I certainly have forgotten “new math” so I understand that my brain has created the ability to learn the “new-new math” that is taught today. All kidding aside, I often find myself wondering why I cannot remember a new acquaintance’s name, but I am able to remember all answers to Double Jeopardy. (slight exaggeration) Richards stated that humans have developed the ability to remember what is necessary and that the brain wants us to remember things that will help us survive.
Therefore, our abilities to remember information and the subsequent loss thereof, isn’t measured in terms of good versus bad. Memory is solely the gift and ability to help humans endure. Richards stated “at the end of the day, our brains only do things if it was good for our survival from an evolutionary perspective.” And in the case of memory, he adds, our brains probably have been shaped by evolution to only remember that stuff that is pertinent to our continued existence.
So maybe not being able to remember someone’s name, or new math is just a feature of how our brains work and all memory lapses are not a cause to worry about impending dementia. I happen to find it disconcerting when I forget certain bits of information. But I understand now, we are all just trying to survive.