Memory Goes Digital
In the Harry Potter novels, the professors at Hogwarts (and presumably other magical people as well) have the ability to remove a gossamer strand of memory from their minds and deposit it elsewhere for safekeeping, or to share visually with others. Wouldn’t it be terrific to have such powers?
We’re getting surprisingly close. Now there’s a “cognitive assistant” that will function as a personal search engine for memories, so that, once the assistant learns your mind and behaviors, you’ll be able to search for “Where did I put my health insurance card?” and receive a specific answer. Spooky cool.
While we’ve explored a backup memory app, smart ways for seniors to age-proof their brains, the importance of creativity in maintaining brain health and some tried-and-true methods to keep the hippocampus sharp, being able to Google your own memories breaks new ground.
Googling Your Mind
Applied neuroscience inventor James Kozloski envisions specific applications for aging — especially for those who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s. “The loss of ability to access memory in the moment is the beginning of the breakdown of normal cognitive function: the ability of individuals to interact with others, take care of themselves, clothe themselves, cook meals,” he said.
Imagine “if your cognitive assistant knew that when you dial a certain person’s phone number — your niece, let’s say — it should also remind you of the name of her husband. The system might also know that, because of the time of day when you’re calling, the husband is more likely to pick up the phone. Or that, by checking a calendar, it happens to be his birthday.
“‘All of that context becomes the basis for inference as to what name should be spoken when they pick up the phone,’ Kozloski said.”
How Memory Loss Can Heal Relationships
And sometimes, memory loss can result in a familial healing, as Sheryl Hirsch-Kramer relates in this touching story of her mother’s dementia, “celebrating her magnificent spirit and the extraordinary help both she and I received during the 21 months she lived in memory care. With fierce honesty, Hirsch-Kramer acknowledges the gifts in her mother’s memory loss:
“My mom was beautiful, brilliant, kind, unique, and dearly loved. We had an awful relationship for the first 43 years and a beautiful relationship for the final 15 years. You have taught me the power of reaching for more in all of my relationships. You have taught me what can happen when we surround ourselves with people who truly love us and distance ourselves from those who can’t or don’t. And you have taught me things through partnering with you during your final years that will make me a better, a more caring person for the rest of my life.”
Perhaps sweetest of all, there’s now a multimedia memory time capsule that can serve as the repository of an elder’s life and wisdom. Even Hogwarts didn’t have that.