Alzheimer’s or Forgetfulness? How to tell the Difference
“You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your body” You might find this phrase to be relatable, be it because you can’t remember where you leave your things, because you forget people’s names or even because you forget important meetings. When we begin forgetting things frequently, we tend to chalk it up to old age or stress. It could also be due to the onset of diseases linked to cognitive decline, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. So, we often view people who have a good memory more positively, believing it to be a sign of intelligence. But a study performed in Canada has shown that this isn’t always the case. Contrary to popular belief, the researchers proposed that the purpose of our memory is not to convey the most accurate information over time. In fact, the purpose of memory is to guide and optimize our decision-making, so that it is done in a more intelligent way. Our brain has a mechanism it uses to forget things, which is very different from the one it uses to store information. This mechanism entails the weakening or even elimination of connections in our brain, where our memories are stored.
In fact, the world is constantly changing, so old information becomes outdated and not as necessary. Until recently, students were required to memorize dates and information that are no longer considered important today. We are now constantly being exposed to a myriad of new data and information, which is being updated at an incredibly fast pace, so our brain has come up with ways of adapting. How does it do that? By forgetting specific details. Our brain generalizes past events, creating room for new information. This compacts our memories and allows us to experience new experiences, retain new information, and make more informed decisions. This phenomenon can be seen clearly in children, because during our childhood we are constantly learning new things and forgetting details more quickly. So how can one differentiate normal forgetfulness from a symptom that may indicate a neurological disease? Alzheimer’s symptoms go beyond simple day to day forgetfulness. People who suffer from this disease have difficulty communicating, learning and reasoning. They tend to forget things very frequently and are unable to remember the subject just moments later. So, the next time you forget something simple like the name of a person you just met, don’t worry. Remember that forgetting is just as important as remembering. As the old saying goes: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”