From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Mon Apr 11 10:27:10 2022
Why We’re All Forgetting Things Right Now
By Elizabeth Bernstein, April 5, 2022, WSJ
Short, temporary instances of forgetfulness—those ‘senior moments’—
are happening to more of us more often these days, memory experts say.
We’re finding it difficult to recall simple things: names of friends
and co-workers we haven’t seen in a while, words that should come easily, even how to perform routine acts that once seemed like second nature.
We’re living in yet another moment of big change as we return to
offices, create new routines and find our footing in yet another new
normal. (And don’t forget a scary war in Europe on top of that.) All
this change consumes cognitive energy, often much more than we think, neuroscientists say. It’s no wonder we can’t remember what we had for breakfast. Our minds are struggling with transition moments.
“Our brains are like computers with so many tabs open right now,”
says Sara C. Mednick, a neuroscientist and professor of cognitive
science at UC Irvine. “This slows down our processing power, and
memory is one of the areas that falters.”
The chronic and cumulative stress of the past two years has taken
its toll, too. Research led by Dr. Shields shows that people who
have experienced recent life stressors have impaired memory. Stress
negatively affects our attention span and sleep, which also impact
memory. And chronic stress can damage the brain, causing further
memory problems, says Dr. Shields, an assistant prof in the dept of psychological science at the U. of Arkansas.
The deluge of info coming at us on multiple channels is cluttering
our brains, too. We’re terrible at paying attention, constantly
scrolling our phones while we’re doing other things, which neuro-
scientists say makes it hard to encode memories in the first place.
And it can be hard to remember something out of context, such as the
name of the co-worker suddenly talking to us in person, rather than
Then there’s the sameness of our lives during the pandemic. How
are we supposed to remember a specific event when each day was
exactly the same as every other?
“Memory benefits from novelty,” says Zachariah Reagh, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant prof of psychological and brain sciences
at Washington U. in St. Louis. “When all of our experiences blend
together, it’s hard to remember any of them as distinct.”
Michelle Triant, 39, blames two Covid-tinged years for why she
recently forgot the name of her own body part. When her 4-year-old
daughter asked her: “Mommy, did I grow in your tummy?” Triant sensed
an opportunity for an anatomy lesson and started to explain. “No,
sweetheart, actually, you grew in my… ” but drew a blank. She stuttered
for a moment, hoping to retrieve the right word.
Her 7-year-old daughter piped up: “She means uterus,” she told her
younger sister. “Babies grow in the mom’s uterus but her belly gets
bigger which is why that’s confusing.”
“Oh, to have the memory of a first-grader,” says Triant, who lives
in Spokane Valley, Wash.
Memory declines with age, but medical science isn’t clear exactly
when. People age cognitively at different rates.