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Can't Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research 1st Edition

20 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 0307406741
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and science writer Halpern (Four Wings and a Prayer) wades bravely into the morass of modern memory research to sort the truth from a wide assortment of hyperbole and promises and platitudes. The news is mixed: most of us won't develop Alzheimer's, but everyone will suffer some memory loss. After describing the different types of memory, Halpern gamely undertakes a series of brain scans used to reveal brain damage and tries diagnostic tests that measure memory through the ability to recall words, images and smells. Researchers have identified a gene closely linked with Alzheimer's, but drugs to treat or prevent memory loss are still far from reality, Halpern says, adding that for many drug companies, the success of a remedy is measured only by how quickly it moves off the shelves. Armed with a mix of hope and healthy skepticism, the author also examines claims that eating chocolate (among other things) or solving puzzles can improve brain function. So much of who we know ourselves to be comes from what we remember, Halpern writes, and her timely book offers a vivid, often amusing introduction to a science that touches us all. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Halpern, author of Four Wings and a Prayer (2001), tackles memory, the most elusive of subjects, in her return to nonfiction after her powerful debut novel, The Book of Hard Things (2003). Goaded by the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and the seemingly inevitable equation—more years lived, more memory lost—Halpern puts herself on the line in this energetic inquiry into cutting-edge neurological research. As a test subject, she undergoes brain scans, including one that turns her radioactive; takes batteries of cognitive tests; visits the labs of leading neuroscientists; and tracks drug-development efforts. Halpern is rigorous in her explanations of the workings of the hippocampus, and impish in her critique of corporate-funded research (why is Mars, the maker of M & Ms, interested in neuroscience?). She incisively contrasts popular claims for the memory-boosting qualities of ginkgo biloba, blueberries, crossword puzzles, ballroom dancing, and chocolate with the painstaking work of scientists attempting to decode neurotransmitters and determine the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Evincing a gift for perfect analogies and supple metaphors, mischievous humor, and righteous skepticism, Halpern is an exceptionally companionable and enlightening guide through the maze of memory maladies and the promising search for remedies. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307406741
  • ASIN: B002T450S2
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,334,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Page Turner on May 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a self-help book, there are plenty out there. But as Sue Halpern shows in this beautifully written exploration of modern memory research, many of them simply spout platitudes and propose "remedies" that have little basis in science. Halpern gets behind the hype and tries to tell us what really works and why it works, and she introduces us to the people who are searching for cures and therapies. By the end I felt like I had a much broader understanding of what was going on with my own memory and that I was much better equipped to talk to my doctor about my concerns, both of which seem like the best kind of help a book could offer, even for a book that is in no way a self-help book. And it's fun to read, too.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Cider drinker on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a really wonderful book--it's just that it's about normal memory loss, not catastrophic types like Alzheimers. I.e., about the thing that's affecting all of us as we age, and keeping us from remembering where the hell the car keys are.

The author, who has a piece about PTSD in last week's New Yorker, has been in all the cutting-edge labs, and indeed has let them scan her brain with all the latest gear. It describes what scientists are discovering about the brain, and about what you can do to keep yours working better longer--hint, I'm going out for a run now.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By EricSF on May 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sue Halpern does a tremendous job of taking a complex area of study (neuroscience) and boiling it down to relevant, digestible information. I was impressed with her ability to distill the information in a way that can help non-scientists understand clinical issues, diagnostics and best practices. Additionally, it was a pleasure to see an author become well enough acquainted with the scientific process and the specific subject matter to recommend that consumers purchase products with independent, peer-reviewed research backing up their claims. Thank you for doing the work and providing consumers with useful guidance. Three cheers!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Memory Maven on May 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Sue Halpern takes the reader on a fascinating and provocative safari through the wilds of the human brain in this new book. Conventional wisdom should run and hide from Halpern's penetrative gaze: forget what you thought you knew about how memory functions, this book's tour of the frontlines of memory research tosses out old theories about how to stay sharp into old age and offers quality (and scientific) advice on how to keep your melon from meandering. So put down the crossword puzzle, read this book, and then call up an old flame and take him or her out ballroom dancing - you'll see what I mean when you finish Halpern's masterpiece. Bravo!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D&D TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I hoped this book would be practically helpful for a family member with pretty severe short-term memory problems. It was actually a sort of "travel book" - a tour of scientists who are studying memory problems generally.

It's good if you are interested in a general tour but, for me, this was unfortunate since I had hoped this book would be practically helpful for a family member with pretty severe short-term memory problems. It contained very few useful tips, most of which are already widely publicized, such as drinking red wine (apparently it's the flavanols, like green tea) and aerobic exercise as well as walking (two miles a day in one study, just one and a half hours a week in another) - also ballroom dancing is tops of all leisure activities. Chocolate, because of its flavanols, receives several pages; although it warns that the chocolate should not be processed in the usual way it doesn't suggest which chocolate brands are best - rather irritating but fortunately I have since learned elsewhere that we need to use the raw, organic cacao bean.

More helpful was "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. One elderly doctor interviewed by the author recommended one of those computer-based programmes with mental exercises scientifically designed to improve memory which he personally had found beneficial and we bought it immediately. It was hard to get our loved one to use it though (memory problems apparently tend to affect those who don't really use their minds that much - or who take certain types of drugs: read "Lipitor: Thief of Memory " and your blood will run cold) and in the end we did not see much improvement although we suspect it wasn't used for long enough.

Later note: anti-anxiety medication was the most practically helpful step, showing benefits within hours, despite the medics saying it takes weeks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By E. Goldstein on December 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Because her father suffered some kind of not-clearly-diagnosed dementia near the end of his life, Sue Halpern was concerned that she might have inherited a predisposition to Alzheimer's disease. So she went to talk to neuroscientists. And took memory tests. And watched other people taking memory tests. And talked to nutritionists, and lots of other people in, around, and related to the "memory loss" field, including some who were making good money promoting various "how to" classes. The result is sort of a smorgasbord of what's out there, and the reader can meander around and pick and taste.

"Can't Remember What I Forgot" includes the promising, the questionable, and the dismaying, but spread out for our inspection are a lot of nuggets of interest. My favorite, and perhaps the hero of the book is Scott Small, who, using techniques he himself developed, came to the conclusion that the part of the brain that is impaired in Alzheimer's patients is not the same as the part impaired in "normal" forgetting that supposedly is a function of aging. Next nugget, not particularly in any order, is research that suggests that eating blueberries promotes the growth of new neurons in rats (and maybe in people). Next, the nugget of research that suggests that aerobic exercise is a good way of staving off memory loss. Another nugget of research suggests that people with a lot of education are less likely to develop Alzheimer's than people without. Since we're visiting a lot of booths at the bazaar, we also visit some people selling exercises that hopefully will increase the ability to memorize long lists of items, a skill that supposedly helps guard against . . . Against what? Mind deterioration? Memory loss? Alzheimer's?

Somewhere along the way I start having questions.
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