As I was caring for two parents who had different types of dementia, I started to second guess my own memories. I started to worry that I was already failing cognitively and then I started to notice how often within my own household we would have conflicting memories of an event we had shared. It made me feel better … and worse.
Apparently, many emotional memories we are convinced we remember, turn out to change over time. In a story that ran in The New Yorker titled You Have No Idea What Happened by Maria Konnikova, it’s interesting to learn how our memories fail us … yet how sure we are that our memories are vividly correct.
As I write this on the 25th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s famous drive in a white Bronco, my husband asks me if I remember where I was eating. I immediately know where I was. It is a major restaurant chain that I haven’t entered since this night … but it had nothing to do with that car chase. I’m looking forward to finding out how different my memory is from my hubby’s.
The research shows that “the strength of the central memory seems to make us confident of all of the details when we should only be confident of a few.” In one study, they actually ask the participants how confident they were of their recall of memories they had recorded two years previously. Five was the highest level and they averaged a 4.17. However, “their memories were vivid, clear—and wrong. There was no relationship at all between confidence and accuracy.” Worse was that when they were told they were mistaken — they just didn’t buy it.
Knowing how fragile memory can be has made me much more sensitive to how it feels to have your ability to remember challenged. No one wants to hear their memory is bad, but we all need to recognize that sometimes our recall may fail us.
As a reminder, memory loss is not a normal consequence of aging. And apparently we all have problems remembering “flashbulb” emotional events in our lives. Humbled.