The story of my life: how did it go again?
THE really interesting section of this documentary for many of us — why memory doesn’t work any more — comes in its second half.
And it turns out there’s good reason we spend half our lives looking for lost car keys, trying to remember why we’ve walked to the other end of the office or frantically racking our brains for the name of a person greeting us like a long-lost friend.
The fact is that anyone over the age of 27 has already hit their prime. And memory — that fantastic ability that defines who we are and allows us to travel in time — is starting to fade.
The statistics are depressing: even those of us not ravaged by a misspent youth have brains that begin to shrink from the age of 20 by about 2 per cent a decade.
By the age of 40, brain cells are dying at a rate of almost 10,000 a day and by middle age, memory is well into decline.
Research shows that white matter, the ‘‘ cables’’ that allow parts of the brain to communicate with each other, die off as people get older.
Also sadly declining are the chemical messengers that allow cells to communicate, with levels in an 80-year-old about half of those found in a young adult.
As Martin Conway, of the University of Leeds, succinctly puts it: ‘‘ If you look at people’s memories, well there’s a famous effect called the um . . . god, I’ve forgotten what it’s called. So typical, isn’t it? God what’s it’s called, it’s the, er . . .’’
The good news is that we manage, for the most part, to cope with this decline in mental faculties gracefully.
And, as this revealing Horizon documentary points out, memory is
Matter of fact: Brains are picked in indeed an astounding thing. The average person will take 58 holidays, meet 1700 friends and acquaintances, read 2100 books and watch 5800 films during their lifetime.
It is memory of these experiences that helps us build our sense of self, allowing us not only to reminisce about the past but to daydream about the future and plan ahead.
The importance of that becomes obvious in the case of John Forbes, a 30-year-old man whose premature birth is thought to have damaged areas of the brain essential to processing memory known as the hippo- campi. He is an intelligent guy but cannot remember his past and has to write down instructions to get him through the day. Worse still, the loss of his past makes it impossible for him to envisage his future.
Forbes is one of several examples the Horizon team draws on to build an absorbing, informative and comprehensible investigation into an issue that affects us all.
It’s well worth making the effort to remember to tune in your new widescreen thingie to the whatsaname channel for this one.
How Does Your Memory Work?
My colleague Michelle Rowe seemed less than kind to this program on its debut three weeks ago in these pages. Checking for myself, I found she had been more generous than Mother Teresa. And people say Charley Boorman’s are just home movies? At least Boorman’s encounters have a little charm. This program, which features Gwyneth Paltrow in reality mode, is like being stuck in a car with two sets of spoilt brats who imagine their unscripted prattle is riveting. Let me out! Name your poison: swanning around Spain in a flashy BMW, or punting across wild seas in a boat clearly too small, on the road’’ from Vietnam to Indonesia with Charley Boorman, pictured. Real drama tonight as the boat is swamped by a large wave, which kills the engine. Perilously adrift, and heading for some mean-looking rocks, the crew is rescued at the last minute then towed to safe harbour by a sail boat. Then it’s on to a Vietnamese train. Pretty standard issue,’’ says Boorman, pictured, assessing the bed in the train. guess they must all be made in the same place. Hell.’’
I Like Doctor Who, must occasionally regenerate, albeit a little less frequently. None of the characters change: they just move kit and caboodle to a different setting. Ward 17 morphed into an ICU, and now an outdoor Medical Response Unit has been added. Revitalisation, or desperation?