We have all experienced it. Those maddening moments when you go into a room and forget why you are there, or don’t remember where you kept the car keys or the TV remote. Worse, there are times when you know that in between attending to your constantly buzzing BlackBerry, trying to fix the dying battery of your laptop and rushing to be on time for the crucial meeting in the office, your mind has completely blacked out, leaving you wondering what you were doing or listening to just minutes ago.
If you haven’t yet taken note of it, doctors say it is time you took it seriously. Rajesh Rastogi, senior psychiatrist, Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, and VM Medical College in Maharashtra, calls it attention deficiency syndrome, which impacts your ability to jog your memory accurately, in a timely manner. Dr Rastogi says: “With our multiple stress levels and a lifestyle that is chaotic and constantly changing, we are coping with too many things simultaneously and the first casualty is our ability to remember.”
Experts also warn against blindly attributing these bouts of forgetfulness to Alzheimer’s disease, or even senility or dementia. The reasons for forgetting, says Dr Rastogi, are different for every individual. While Alzheimer’s is a physiological condition, to some extent attributed to genetic factors and age, he says memory loss, visual/spatial impairment, language disturbance and angry outbursts in mild and irregular form can be seen in individuals Dr Rastogi calls “selective forgetting”.
What is important, he says, is to establish a pattern of occurrence, if any. “Only if there is a perceptible trend, commonality and an increasing frequency should it serve as a mild alarm bell, needing intervention, be it in terms of psychiatric counselling, making lifestyle changes or seeing a neurologist,” he says.
The main reason for forgetting is not an aberration, but one that has a repetitive pattern, is poor concentration. When the mind needs to take care of hundreds of things simultaneously, there are bound to be “forgetting spells” where the mind stubbornly refuses to assimilate. People who are under continuous pressure, bombarded with an information overload, leading lives that have a series of overlapping engagements, commitments and crisis situations, find it difficult to register any spoken thing 100%.
Doctors also differentiate between selective forgetting and panic attacks and complete blackouts. While the former is a condition that gradually builds up owing to numerous factors, the latter is a result of a highly stressful period which could be specific to a particular phase of one’s life. Extreme anxiety, paranoia and severe emotional trauma could lead to blackouts. This could be a complete failure of the mind to recall anything. It is only when these blackouts get common that one needs to visit a doctor.
Experts say that with age some amount of memory loss is normal, but it can be averted with carefully chosen activities. As with 63-year-old New Delhi housewife Sadhana Bakshi, whose family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease. “I am on medication for high blood pressure and diabetes. I know that the heavy dosage can impact my responses further and that is why I have engaged myself in different things,” she says.
Bakshi learnt driving, revived her interest in crosswords and sudoku and even enrolled in a master’s course in training and development.
Doing new things and doing the same things differently are a good way of getting the mind to jog and refresh, says Dr Rastogi. “Just like we exercise in the gym, we should exercise to sharpen our memories,” he concludes.