The story of my life: how did it go again?

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

Steve Creedy

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?

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