Apr 15

“Remember”: L. Genova Eases Minds About Forgetting

Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting is new nonfiction by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. Genova is also the author of several novels, including Still Alice, about a 50-year-old professor who’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It later became a movie starring Julianne Moore.

Although aspects of Alzheimer’s are addressed in Genova’s new book, Remember is more about the kind of memory issues everyone faces at times. As her publisher’s blurb reminds us, “Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn’t mean it’s broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human.”

The three-part structure of Remember includes How We Remember, What We Forget, and Improve or Impair. In brief:

  1. Remembering has a great deal to do with the amount of attention we give something. (Interested? Or not?)
  2. We forget a lot of things, and that’s okay. (Multitasking impairs memory.)
  3. There are things we can do to remember better. (Sadly, solving crossword puzzles is not one of them.)

In addition, from the Publishers Weekly review:

She explains the different kinds of memory (such as working memory and muscle memory) and the pitfalls inherent in each (such as how relying on working memory can lead to forgetfulness, and muscle memory can sustain bad habits), before exploring the functions of forgetting and the distinction between normal memory failures and something more serious. Genova blends popular science and self-help, providing lay reader-friendly descriptions of the function of memory and sharing tips for better memory in a helpful appendix.

And from Kirkus Reviews:

In conversational language, Genova details how the brain processes events and how we have the power to help select what transfers from fleeting knowledge to long-term memory. For example, while it is common to forget the name of a person you briefly met, you can also train yourself to improve attention to such details and improve recall. ‘Memory is the sum of what we remember and what we forget,’ writes the author, ‘and there is an art and science to both.’

So, how do we actually train ourselves regarding recall? One Goodreads reviewer says she learned the following:

…I need to pay attention to details I want to remember, decrease distractions, rehearse facts, self-test (quiz myself on what I know), attach meaning to moments, use visual and spatial memory, use lists, and keep a diary. I loved the idea to replicate context during memory retrieval, too. So if I study for a botany test while drinking a Mocha Frappuccino, I’ll try to drink the same thing while I’m taking the test so that I can recall information better.

What about reducing your risk of ever getting Alzheimer’s? Suggestions include a Mediterranean diet, sufficient vitamin D, avoidance of alcohol (including red wine), physical exercise, getting adequate sleep, preventing and/or dealing with cardiovascular issues, managing stress, doing meditation, and learning new things.

Jul 28

“Alive Inside”: How Dan Cohen’s “Music & Memory” Helps

Michael Rossato-Bennett filmed social worker Dan Cohen and his work with his nonprofit Music & Memory for three years to create the documentary Alive Inside, about music having the power “to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it” (IMDB).

From the Mission Statement of Music & Memory: “Executive Director Dan Cohen founded Music & Memory with a simple idea: Someday, if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music. He’d heard a recent news report about how iPods have grown so popular. Why not bring used iPods as well as new ones into nursing homes, to provide personalized music for residents?”

As shown in Alive Inside, it’s an idea well-respected neurologist Oliver Sacks strongly supports, as music memory is more accessible than other types. Click on “Music and the Brain” to watch a brief video explaining the connection.

James Thilman, The Huffington Post, quotes film director Rossato-Bennett’s reaction to witnessing one man’s amazing transformation. “When [Henry] started to emerge from the cocoon that he had been inside of for ten years, we discovered that he wasn’t just a man — he was a poet, he was a singer. He was lost to the world, and when he emerged, I just started crying.”

Henry’s not the only one seen coming alive to the music. A couple others are described below by Rob Nelson, Variety:

John, a quiet Army vet who served at Los Alamos, perks up at the sound of the Andrews Sisters, practically dancing in his chair. Denise, a bipolar schizophrenic and Schubert fan, pushes away the walking frame she’d been using every day for two years and begins to dance.

One notable benefit of music therapy in nursing homes is a significant decrease in the prescription of antipsychotic medications.

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post, states, “Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.”

The trailer to Alive Inside is offered below:

Selected Reviews

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…(I)t won the audience award at Sundance this year because it will completely slay you, and it has the greatest advantages any such movie can have: Its cause is easy to understand, and requires no massive social change or investment…Cohen’s crusade to bring music into nursing homes could be the leading edge of a monumental change in the way we approach the care and treatment of older people, especially the 5 million or so Americans living with dementia disorders.”

Nicolas Rapold, New York Times: “Neither the value of music nor the deficiencies of certain nursing homes are tough to debate. But a documentary that never leaves any doubt about what comes next, while single-mindedly stumping for a cause presented as unique, is also not terribly interesting as a film.”