UNRELIABLE RECALL

I’ve written about failing memory more than once (I think), but there is a related offshoot of this affliction that needs attention. I call it the False Memory Syndrome (FMS). Its victims are under the mistaken impression that their memory banks are thriving and solvent while actually, these banks are going belly up.

In addition to the common negative consequences of memory lapses like misplaced car keys, reading glasses and grandchildren, FMS sufferers, since they are unaware of their affliction, are at a greater risk of losing friends and money and having an occasional fist fight.

Some of the afflicted even go so far as to claim photographic memories which is true, in a way. However their mental photos, although sharply focused, have inaccurate captions and dates. All the details of Cousin Harlow’s Eagle Scout induction ceremony, for instance, are remembered and recited as belonging to Uncle Fred’s funeral, including the eulogy and the cremation.

Recognizing an old acquaintance, an FSM victim will pride himself on remembering the friend’s name and will repeat it often during the conversation. “Yes, George. I agree with you George” and so on until “George” points out his name is Fred and says, “Thanks for asking about my wife Alice, but I’ve never been married.”

A false memory can lead to disastrous wagers since the victim considers himself a walking encyclopedia and will bet a bundle when challenged about the name of the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner or the Super Bowl VI victors. His so-called encyclopedic mind is, after all, full of misprints.

I must confess to an occasional FMS attack. Arriving at the supermarket recently I took out my shopping list which I distinctly remembered getting from my wife. However, I had deja vu flashes as I picked up items and loaded my cart. The flashes were justified. I was working with the previous week’s list. The current one was back home on the kitchen table and we were in for a lot of repeat meals that week. Also I took advantage of an ongoing sale, wondering why I’d missed it before, and we ended up with a year’s supply of toilet paper.

Scientists tell us that an important memory part of the brain is the hippocampus, a curved ridge running along each lateral ventricle. (I’ll take questions after the lecture or next November at the latest.) Perhaps for FMS sufferers, the ridge is more than curved. Maybe it’s twisted or to use a medical term, it’s “screwy”.

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