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Warmest Regards: Are you forgetting a lot?

A year or so ago I resolved to stop buying books.

I have too many books - several bookcases filled to overflowing and more books stacked on the floor.

I buy only nonfiction because the public library is a wonderful free source of fiction. When I want a new book, I first try the library to see if they can get it.

When I saw a write-up for the book “Remember - The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting,” I knew it was one I needed to buy.

It’s written by best-selling author Lisa Genova. You might have read her book, “Still Alice” or saw the movie based on her book.

I confess I didn’t read it because it’s too painful for me to read about the mental decline of someone with Alzheimer’s.

I had to watch the heartbreaking deterioration of my own beloved mother as Alzheimer’s stole her away one piece at a time.

When she totally stopped phoning me, I was hurt, thinking she no longer cared about me. Little did I know it was because she forgot how to dial a phone.

No matter how bad we thought it was, it kept getting worse.

Because of my family history - mother, father, grandmother and all aunts fell victim to Alzheimer’s - that horrific disease has remained one of my strongest fears.

Every time I have another birthday I think to myself, well I don’t have Alzheimer’s yet. Definitely something for me to celebrate.

While I put thought of that dreaded disease on the back burner most of the time, I am super sensitive about memory.

If it’s time to leave the house and I can’t find my car keys, I try unsuccessfully to remember where I put them.

When I finally find the keys but can’t leave until I find my sunglasses, I think, oh, no. Am I forgetting more and more? Is this a sign of Alzheimer’s?

While I was covering an educational program at a senior center, the speaker talked about that very issue.

“If you keep losing your car keys, that’s not Alzheimer’s,” he said. “On the other hand, if you forget how to use those car keys, it’s time to worry.”

It was a bit of a superficial presentation but he got his point across.

Whenever I read something about Alzheimer’s, I seldom find something new.

I bought Lisa Genova’s book about memory because she’s a Harvard schooled neuroscientists and I thought she would have a different slant.

She does. She goes into detail about how memories are made and how we retrieve them.

She makes the point that once you understand the language of memory and how it functions, you can vastly improve your ability to remember and feel less rattled when you forget.

What the book reinforced for me is that I should listen more to my husband’s suggestions.

For instance, he keeps hammering home the point that I should put my car keys in the same place every time, preferably on the wall hook he made for that purpose. Then I will never have to run around looking for them.

Along the same vein, he parks in the exact location every time he goes to a shopping center. He will pass up plenty of empty spaces before he gets near the end row where he always parks.

I, on the other hand, have been know to have a panicked walk in the hot sun searching for where I parked. Lisa Genova calls David’s method paying close attention versus mindless action.

“Your memory isn’t a video camera recording a constant stream of every sight and sound you’re exposed to. You can only capture and retain what you pay attention to,” she writes.

“Paying attention is the number one thing to improve your memory at any age.”

Ahhh, I don’t lose things because I have a memory problem.

I simplified her explanation for how we create memory but it’s worth reading.

Her summary chapter on how you can build a better memory is especially useful.

She rightfully claims if people were told there is a pill to reduce your chance of getting Alzheimer’s, all would want it.

But it’s not swallowing a pill that does it.

It’s a Mediterranean diet, eating green leafy vegetables, brightly colored berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, beans and fish, she says.

Although it takes longer to learn new information and longer to retrieve stored information once we hit our 30s, we can extend our youthful memory with lifestyle changes, she says.

I’m glad to learn there’s a reason why I can no longer memorize as effortlessly as I once did.

In college, when I got a perfect score on a geology exam, the teacher thought I was cheating. He made me retake the test while he watched. I not only knew the answers, I knew where they were in the book. I had a good memory back then.

Now, I have a hard time learning a short Bible verse.

But I’m relieved to learn retention rate decline is “normal.”

The author offers practical ways to avoid forgetfulness. If you keep forgetting about things you need to do, she suggests doing a daily list.

That worked great for me. Tips to remember names was also helpful.

I will definitely keep the memory book on my shelf for future reference.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at newsgirl@comcast.net.