A study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic shows that the combination of computer use and moderate physical exercise appears to decrease one's odds of suffering from age-related memory loss.
I wish the Mayo Clinic researchers had included me in their 926-person study. I would have told them their data were suspect because I’ve used a computer for many years, exercised for about a year, and my short term memory has neither improved nor worsened. I don’t fall into the 36 percent cognitively normal or the 18.3 percent that showed signs of MCI (mild cognitive impairment).
As I have grown older, my short term memory has seemed to gradually disappear. Sometimes the loss has not served me, a reader and sometime writer, very well. In my last post on literature and genre, I forgot to include the URL of the essay to which I referred. My biggest sin in that post was not acknowledging my debt to Janice Law for her article on the subject in Criminal Brief on May 16, 2011. Also Deborah for her January 26, 2012 article in SleuthSayers.
Loss of my short term memory is annoying because it interferes with my reading. Memory is necessary in reading any type of narrative but it is especially important in reading fiction. E. M. Forster in his Aspects of the Novel says that fiction demands intelligence and memory. He goes on to say, “unless we remember we cannot understand.” The loss of short term memory can be disastrous in reading mysteries, for if it misses a clue and doesn’t recognize the red herring, the twist, or the surprises enjoyment of the story is also lost.
Thinking about memory and reading, I did what I always do, googled and binged the words “memory” and “reading” to get more information on the relation between them. I learned that two types of memories are involved in reading, and I suppose writing also, short term and working.
A definition: “Working memory refers to the processes that are used to temporarily store, organize and manipulate information. Short-term memory, on the other hand, refers only to the temporary storage of information in memory.”
I tried wrapping my mind around that definition and concluded that it is a difference that is no difference. It certainly doesn’t help me with the problem of sometimes being unable to remember what I read on page 3 that now connects to what I’m reading on page 10. In my reading experience, I find that I not only must recall information stored in my memory, but also manipulate and organize that information if I’m to participate wholly in the story.
Like a writer whose creative juices have dried up, a reader whose short term memory has deserted him may slip into deep depression if he doesn’t do something to compensate. To compensate, when I’m reading pbooks, I put a pencil check mark near a word, sentence, or metaphor that I think I’ll need to remember later, and then mark the page with a paper clip or post-it. The system works reasonably well for me. Reading ebooks, on the other hand, I’m struggling to find a way to mark what I think I should remember.
The narrator in Stephen King’s short story “The Things They Left Behind” says “Memory always needs a marker....” I suppose it does. My problem is the marker has disappeared taking my short term memory with it.