You walk into a room, but can’t remember what you came in for. Or you bump into an old acquaintance at work, and forget their name. Most of us have had momentary memory lapses like this, but in middle age they can start to feel more ominous. Do they make us look unprofessional, or past it? Could this even be a sign of impending dementia? The good news for the increasingly forgetful, however, is that not only can memory be improved with practice, but that it looks increasingly as if some cases of Alzheimer’s may be preventable too.
Neuroscientist Dr Richard Restak is a past president of the American Neuropsychiatric Association, who has lectured on the brain and behaviour everywhere from the Pentagon to Nasa, and written more than 20 books on the human brain. His latest, The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind, homes in on the great unspoken fear that every time you can’t remember where you put your reading glasses, it’s a sign of impending doom. “In America today,” he writes “anyone over 50 lives in dread of the big A.” Memory lapses are, he writes, the single most common complaint over-55s raise with their doctors, even though much of what they describe turns out to be nothing to worry about.