INTRODUCTION Take Charge of Your Life Are you having trouble remembering things? Do the names of people you've met a dozen times suddenly escape you? Do you ever come into a room to perform a specific task and forget what you wanted to do? You're not alone. Many millions of people share your complaints, and hundreds of thousands regularly worry that they're losing their memories (the first sign, they think, that they're losing their minds), to the point that they seek professional medical advice.
Let me reassure you that the overwhelming majority of these complaints are not associated with Alzheimer's disease or irreversible memory loss. Even if you feel that your memory loss persists, you should not become fearful that the meaningful period of your life has suddenly ended. What you may need to do is undergo medical testing to find out what's wrong, then have the underlying problem corrected. The important thing for you to keep in mind is that many kinds of memory loss can be easily diagnosed and treated.
As you'll learn, there are many different kinds of memory, all of which are controlled by the brain, and all of which are important. However, one kind of memory is essential. It is at the center or core of memory; indeed, it is at the core of your being, representing the essential you, your personality, your feelings. It is called vital memory, and all other forms of memory are rooted in this function.
Sometimes it's difficult to understand how crucial vital memory is in our lives until we see what happens when it's destroyed. In early 1990, a woman testified before Congress about a weight-loss program her forty-five-year-old husband had enrolled in less than a year before. He had been about thirty pounds overweight, and the weight-loss clinic put him on a liquid diet that did, in fact, cause him to shed his unwanted pounds. But one day when the man was out jogging he suddenly had a stroke, the result of the kind of diet he was on, which left him in a coma. Even though he was at first paralyzed and unable to speak, intensive therapy over a period of several months improved his speech and arm and leg functions to the point that he was almost normal. He was left, however, with one critical deficiency: he had lost his vital memory. He had lost all memory of prior events, including who he was, who his wife and children were, and what had been his hopes and dreams for the future.
The man's wife was justifiably bitter. Without his vital memory, she explained, he looked the same, spoke in the same way, and did many things as he had before. Yet he was only a shadow of his former self-a Hollywood facade with no underlying structure. When his vital memory had gone, all the things that made him a unique individual also disappeared. His body was rehabilitated; his mind was not.
Such selective loss of vital memory following a stroke is very uncommon. What this man's experience illustrates, however, is not just that a stroke can be tremendously debilitating, but that his stroke could have been prevented with proper precautions. Moreover, other kinds of memory loss, even those associated with some strokes, can be reversed.
This book is about memory, but it is unlike others that address the topic. Books such as Thirty Days to a Better Memory, Business Success Through Memory, and New Secrets of Improving Your Memory and literally hundreds of others of the same variety are clearly helpful to those of us who want to improve intellectual capacity. But such improvements, nice as they are, are trivial compared to preserving vital memory and reversing the loss of our selves.
Vital memory is one of the most basic and necessary functions of our brains. The cartoonist Gary Larson captured the essence of vital memory in one of his "Far Side" cartoons. An elderly man with a stubble of whiskers wakes up in the morning. Beside the man's bed is a large poster with block letters reminding him, put your pants on before the shoes! When you wake up each morning, do you know where you are, who you are, and what the date is? Do you remember what happened the day before, and how it affected you? Do you have a general idea of how you fit into your surroundings? Most important, do you know what your plans and expectations for the immediate future are the rest of the morning, the afternoon, the evening, tomorrow?
If you retain your vital memory, you will continue to be in charge of your own life. If you don't, life will not have much meaning for you. You become an object rather than a person, someone to be taken care of. The less vital memory you have, the more your indiividual freedom is compromised. As long as you retain your vital memory you are a going concern, no matter how old you are. Even if some of your memory resources are reduced, or if your vvvvvisual or hearing memories are diminished, you'll still be able to take care of yourself.
The reason I stress vital memory as the core of your memory function is to give you some perspective on your memory complaints. The more superficial aspects of memory may be deficient from time to time in all of us, you and me included. And when you have problems such as difficulty in recalling a name, forgetting the context of a conversation, having an idea pop into your head and leave just as quickly, you should not be unduly alarmed as long as your vital memory is intact.
This book touches on a number of aspects of memory and memory loss, but the subject of vital memory is a recurring theme because it is relevant to every facet of memory. In instances of memory loss, we'll go into the diagnostic steps necessary to find the root cause of the memory problem. More often than not, a helpful treatment is available that is capable of reversing the memory loss and many of the symptoms that go with it.
Keep in mind, however, that human memory is highly subjective and fragile. As you age, you may begin to have some difficulty in remembering, for example, names, particularly when your catalogue or library of memories is very extensive. But if your brain is free from disease or injury, your vital memory should remain intact even into advanced old age.
To make certain that you understand the memory process, I want to discuss in a general way the components of memory so that you can tell the difference between the more and less essential aspects of remembering. I'll also try to give you some information that will help you enhance your ability to remember, even if something has already happened to you to decrease your memory.
I've been fortunate to participate in a revolution in medical science which has brought about major breakthroughs in treating people for loss of vital memory. Thirty years ago I witnessed countless numbers of persons who came to the hospitals where I worked in search of cures for their memory complaints, many of which we were then unable to diagnose, let alone treat. Today a majority of persons with memory problems can be helped. We now know, with certainty, that not all memory loss is permanent, and that there are specific treatments and therapies that can have enormously beneficial results in reversing many kinds of memory loss.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Vernon Mark and Jeffrey P. Mark. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.