Trevor Laffan: My wife has total recall, while my memories are terminated!

How's your memory? Trevor Laffan has been looking at some memory exercises to keep him sharp!
Trevor Laffan: My wife has total recall, while my memories are terminated!

BRAIN FREEZE: Trevor Laffan has particular problems with remembering dates and years from the past.

SEAN Connery sadly passed away last October at 90 years of age.

One of the most famous actors of our time, he is probably best known for playing the part of the British Secret Service agent, James Bond, 007. His voice alone was enough to identify him.

I was watching a documentary on TV shortly after his death, about his life and times. It featured clips of various interviews he gave during his career and he mentioned several times that he had difficulty relating events to the correct dates.

For instance, he couldn’t recall the year he started playing Bond, or how long it took to make the films, or how many years had passed between each film.

Connery said he couldn’t work it out because he had difficulty calculating time. When he was describing how he had played one particular role in a certain year, the interviewer corrected him and pointed out that he had made that film many years earlier. Connery accepted that the interviewer was probably right because he could never remember that kind of detail.

It wasn’t that his memory was bad, he was just unable to put events into chronological order. I don’t know if there is a specific name for this problem or if it is even recognised as a problem, but I knew straight away what he was talking about because I suffer from the same thing.

Not many people can claim to have something in common with James Bond though, so it’s not all bad.

I should have taken my father’s advice and kept a diary. When I was heading to Dublin as a young garda in 1980, he advised me to keep one, but I didn’t listen of course, and it would be very useful to me now.

I can remember many things from the past, but I struggle to put them into the correct datal sequence. I can describe something that happened to me in my early life but when I try to put a date on when it happened, I can be out by years.

My wife has amazing recall and can conjure up details about holidays with the kids more than 30 years ago, including the apartments we stayed in, and the beaches, and pubs and restaurants we visited. 

I can barely remember the countries we were in and I have no idea when we went there.

She can rattle off every detail of our children’s lives while I struggle to remember their names. My mind is like an Instagram account. Memories linger for a short while and then they leave to make room for something else. I’ll give you an example.

I got a touch of the flu some time ago and I lost my sense of taste and smell. I have no idea why I remember the month, but it was October, and I was sick for a week. It was pre-Covid-19 and when the virus eventually arrived on our shores, I was convinced I had already had it.

I told anyone who would listen that I had the virus a few months before it made its official appearance here in March, 2020.

I was very persuasive and even had myself convinced. I wrote a piece about my loss of taste and smell in The Echo at the time. Those symptoms eventually became one of the stand-out signs of Covid-19 and that reinforced my belief that I had the virus before our first lockdown.

I should have known better than to trust myself because, as usual, my timeline was slightly skewed. It was getting the better of me, so I went searching through my filing system for a copy of the article, and I was surprised to see that it was published January, 2017. That meant I got the flu in October, 2016, and not 2019 as I had been telling everyone. I was out by three years.

Here’s another example. I can remember being at my grandmother’s funeral, but I could never remember when it took place. I had always thought it was in the 1970s, but given my weakness for dates, I knew I could be wrong.

Writing this stirred my curiosity so I contacted a relative, who told me that she actually died in 1982. So not only was I out by a few years but I had the wrong decade.

That can be very frustrating, so I’ve decided to do something about it. 

I’ve been looking at some memory organising exercises, and the first suggestion to help you remember something is to make it meaningful.

Here is an example. Packing a parachute by itself can be boring. However, the excitement of jumping out of a plane gives a whole new meaning to this process. Focusing on the ‘Big Picture’ can help provide meaning to the learning process and stimulate us to remember.

That’s fair enough, I suppose, and it made sense to me because the main reason my grandmother’s funeral stood out in my mind at all is because during the service in the graveyard, an older man stepped forward and gave an oration and I hadn’t seen that before.

They also say people remember 90% of what they do, 75% of what they see and 20% of what they hear because action is a proven memory enhancer. So, they suggest the next step is to move your hands, pace back and forth and use gestures because if your body is actively involved, it will help you to remember.

That sounds reasonable too and I’m going to give it a go. So, if I meet you while I’m out walking and I’m flapping my arms around the place, don’t be alarmed. I’m either trying to remember your name or I’m just folding my imaginary parachute.

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