When the topic of convenient amnesia arises, our typical first reaction is to think that the person just doesn’t want to remember. That can be true for a multitude of reasons, but it isn’t always the reason one recalls inaccurately or suffers memory loss.
While many times, convenient amnesia is seated in emotion, it can also be seated in a physical cause. Whether our interest is in interacting successfully with others, or writing about people and crafting characters, we should be aware of both possibilities.
When we encounter convenient or “selective” amnesia, what would be more beneficial than our first reaction—doesn’t want to remember—would be determine why the person is exhibiting convenient amnesia, or memory loss that appears to be selective (and well might not be). For our purposes, cause and motivation are key. What are the possibilities? We’re more familiar with emotional causes, so let’s take a look at some of the most popularly reported physical causes.
Physical Causes of Memory Loss
Chronic lack of sleep. When awake, human beings take in a lot of information. The subconscious mind takes in everything and forgets nothing. It stores literally. When we sleep, it sorts and stores and files all this sensory input. If we don’t sleep, input doesn’t get sorted and stored properly. Some things get misfiled. Distorted. Lost in the system. Those challenges can be interpreted as convenient amnesia. Selective recall. When what is really happening is the body needs rest, to sleep.
Some consider sleeping not a big deal. But when you consider 40% of people don’t get enough sleep—6.8 hours versus 8 hours—you can see how those losses can mount up. Lose an hour per night over a week, a month—that’s a lot of sorting that doesn’t get done under optimum conditions.
Nutritional deficiency. The body is complex and to work properly it has requirements. These needs must be met for systems to work well. For example, deficient levels of Folic Acid (required to make blood cells), and Vitamins B6 (an antioxidant that prevents reduction of concentration and attention) and B12 (protects nerves), can attribute to memory loss. Memory loss also increases with age (see Age below). Poor diet has a huge impact on all systems, and included can be loss of memory or details of a memory.
Underlying medical conditions. A multitude of medical challenges can have a huge impact on memory. Thyroid disease, for example. This little gland impacts an array of body functions. It makes a hormone lightly referred to as a “spark plug” because it ignites reactions elsewhere. Too little hormone (thyroxine) and you’re tired and depressed. Getting up can be a challenge, much less keeping memories straight. Too much hormone and you’re functioning in overdrive, often “confused and muddled.” Kidney disease, Diabetes, Hypoxia (oxygen lack as in COPD, Asthma, Anemia, Sleep Apnea) can be memory culprits. So can alcohol, depression, and, yes, even dehydration. That surprises many, until we recall our brains are 78% water. How could the lack of it not have serious impact and consequences?
Taking multiple medications. (Polypharmacy). Drugs can significantly impact memory and recall. Particularly when you mix medications. Like all food (or the lack of it) impacts your body, including your brain, all chemicals you put into your body impacts you, too. Common and broadly used medications that can influence memory are those prescribed for Cholesterol (some statins), sleeping pills, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, blood pressure drugs, and those drugs used to treat arthritis. Codeine and other painkillers can cause memory impairments, and some medicines that don’t generally come to mind immediately, such as antacids and drugs for diabetics that inhibit proper absorption of Vitamin B12.
Age. Not all seniors will have memory issues, but some do, and to varying degrees. People are not one-size-fits-all. As we age, our brains do shrink. We’re often on more medications, and some body functions slow down, including how rapidly our body processes the medications we take. Many seniors don’t eat as well as they should, opting for snacking rather than consuming balanced meals. And, being older, we usually experience more external upheaval in our lives, like the loss of loved ones, the anxiety of retirement and fulfilling our life purpose. Major life-changes impact our mood and mental state. Concentration is often harder, organization more difficult, and recall trickier. Some say time makes memories fuzzy, which can be true, but so can the importance and emphasis we place on specific memories.
What One Might Notice or Others Might Mention
Now and then, we all forget. It happens. We assign an importance value on memories, and those with the highest value are most vivid in our memory. Those with a low value, get fuzzy or even fade. Sometimes those fuzzy and faded memories can be triggered by others relating details to us, but there are times when even triggered, we simply don’t recall an event or incident. That happens. But if it happens routinely, all the time, we should be suspicious and get checked out by a doctor in short order.
Be Suspicious Watch List
- Being forgetful often or regularly.
- A pattern of needing questions to be repeated.
- Expressions of concern about memory. Noting it personally, or others pointing it out.
- Arriving or departing from regularly scheduled events at inappropriate times. (work or church services, for example).
- A consistent reluctance to leave home or go to an unfamiliar place, especially alone.
- Constantly losing things and, when searching for them, forgetting what you’re searching for. (Not because you’re multi-tasking, busy and distracted, but because you just can’t remember.)
If you experience or note the suspicious, don’t ignore it. Ignored situations get worse, and worse carries steeper consequences.
When it comes to things like forgetting where you are, or how to get home, where home is, that you’ve already eaten and insist you haven’t eaten and must, or suffering extreme personality changes is evident, that’s not selective or convenient amnesia. Those are significant signs that require diagnosis—the sooner the better—by medical professionals.
Many memory loss causes can be successfully treated. Obviously, the sooner a challenge is noted and treated, the better the opportunity to save memory.
In writing, we create characters, people, for different purposes. Whether we’re putting them into our stories in key roles or secondary ones that echo or mirror the key conflicts occurring, if we want readers to make the leap from reading words on a page to living the events taking place, then in our fiction we must be realistic. Identifiable. Relatable.
When we depict a character with convenient amnesia, s/he really should be exhibiting appropriate symptoms. If a more severe form of memory loss, then exhibit those appropriate symptoms.
Memory loss is an issue that real people experience and/or encounter in loved ones. That familiarity requires the writer to be authentic and genuine in depicting what s/he depicts in the story.
Fiction, while created from thin air, is anchored in relatable bonds and truth. It is not tethered in arbitrary convenient amnesia or selective recall. But it can be successfully tethered in relatable, believable convenient amnesia.
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© 2017, Vicki Hinze. Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Star. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. KNOW IT FIRST! Subscribe to Vicki’s Monthly Newsletter!