Ana Veciana-Suarez: We’re not forgetful, we just know too much

Once upon a time, I could claim the small honor of being a veritable walking, talking phone book. Offer up a friend’s name and I could spit out a number with the precision of an adding machine. Tucked in the folded recesses of my brain were also addresses, birth dates and assorted trivia.

That, of course, was before the advent of cellphones. Once that electronic tether came into existence, my brain, or at least my memory, went into a state of suspended animation. With speed dial, I had no need to memorize a string of numbers.

Smart phones made life even easier. I didn’t even have to remember birthdays. A reminder popped up on the screen to jog the old noggin. Same thing for meetings and dinner dates.

In fact, I am now so dependent on chips and circuitry that I have alerts to remind me to follow up on conversations with my grown children. Two examples that pinged into my consciousness just yesterday: “Ask L. re: exercising” and “N – apt. sublet?”

As a result, my memory isn’t what it used to be, and this stutter comes at a time when I’m supposed to be able to remember megabytes of data from my years on the planet.

The Hubby likes to say that he forgets more in one day than our grandchildren can remember in a week. He has a point. We have done a lot of living, and with all that living comes millions of experiences, tons of facts and countless figures, all stockpiled in the warehouse between our ears. Just trying to remember the names of former classmates, the food preferences of my burgeoning family and all my PIN numbers and passwords is enough to frazzle me. This is probably true for a lot of people.

Last month, my aforementioned son — the one with the college “apt. sublet” issue, the one who has mastered the art of selective forgetting (hmmm) — sent me a link to a National Geographic article titled An Aging Brain is Still Pretty Smart. The implication being, of course, that I, and others of a certain age, can be retrained and rehabilitated. Rebooted.

In case you missed the breakthrough study cited in this piece (or simply forgot it, and who can blame you) let me summarize it in one word: vindication.

Researchers in Germany say a study of memory recall in older people suggests that aging brains don’t really lose cognitive horsepower. They simply function slower because they have an increasing amount of information to sort through.

The team of scientists from Tübingen University fed computer models small amounts of information each day, similar to our own gathering of material. As the devices collected more information, they were slower to retrieve it — mirroring what happens as we humans grow older.

“The brains of older people do not get weak,” said lead researcher Michael Ramscar. “On the contrary, they simply know more.”

I want to send that quote, underlined and bold-faced, to certain people, people who have been impatient and condescending and a trifle arrogant with me. (You know who you are.) I’d better do it quickly, though, before it sinks into the quirky quicksand that has claimed the name of an old teacher, the working title of my first book and the fourth item on my grocery list.

And just to be on the safe side, I’m also ordering a set of brain games and teasers. That should offset the crutch of pinging alerts and reminders provided by that whatchamacallit.

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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