Friday, August 11, 2006


I think memory is fascinating, don't you? I've always been interested in memories, enjoyed the occasional trip down Memory Lane, and been floored when a random, deep, early memory suddenly pops into my head. And nothing is more annoying to me when I know I know something but can't remember it on command. Like when a word is on the tip of your tongue but you just can't get it out. Or when you know you've seen something in your house but you can't remember where. AH! So when I had the opportunity to help out a local grad student and take a memory test, I said YES! (and the nominal $15 for participating in the study didn't hurt, either.)

The grad student is a fellow mom the same age as me. She's studying memory and pregnancy, drilling down into memory in each trimester as well as in women who've been pregnant but aren't now, and had healthy pregnancies. That's the category I fell into. I saw her flyer at the YMCA and decided, on a whim, to call. She called me back and arranged to come to my house to conduct the tests last night. It needed to be on the later side so the kids would be in bed and wouldn't distract me, so she knocked on my door at 8pm. I had just gotten the kids down.

I don't know why, but I was nervous for these tests. It must go back to my school days and my desire to perform well. It's not like these memory tests were graded per se, but still, I wanted to demonstrate good memory. Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that my memory wasn't completely shot because, let's face it, you DO suffer some short-term memory loss when you're pregnant (at least, I did) and I wanted some reassurances that it wasn't permanent and that my brain hadn't completely gone to pot since being home with the kids for the past 5 years.

The first few tests were paper tests. I wouldn't even call them tests, really - more like assessments on your own personal take on your memory. Stuff like "in the last month, how often did you find yourself not remembering where you put simple items, like car keys" and "how often do you notice celebrities or persons with faces you should recognize being unfamiliar to you". That sort of thing. They also wanted to know about my sleeping. Thankfully on that front it's been a decent month and I've been feeling mostly rested. Lastly, she inquired via paper assessment about my mental state (aka depression) in the last week. Again, happy to report no serious signs of depression. Off to a good start!

Then came the non-paper tests. She started off with listing a series of words, random, that I was to listen to and then try to repeat, in any order, as many as I could remember. Words like: bell - curtain - drum - coffee - hat - color - house - school - parent - farmer - nose - turkey - moon - house - garden - river. I think I missed a few the first time through. Then she repeated the list of words and we went through it again. I did a little better, this time remembering a few more words (I think - they give you absolutely no feedback at the time. Very frustrating.) We went through this exercise 4 or 5 times, exactly the same. Notes were being scribbled after each time.

Then she threw at me several things to remember all at the same time. Stuff like, "remember these two questions - blah blah blah - and ask them of me when this alarm goes off in 20 minutes." and at the same time she's grabbing two random items from my family room and stashing them, telling me I'll need to remember the two items she took and where she put them. And oh yeah, look at these faces, here are their names, and I'll ask you to tell me their names later. Yikes! Then I had to replicate a route/tour she took through my family room/dining area/kitchen (easy), and look at a laminated sheet with probably 40 black-and-white pictures of random things on it for 15 seconds, trying to remember as many of the pictures as I could. Not an easy task when you're trying to remember 3 names from the faces you were shown, the two questions to ask her when the bell went off, and everything else. Then after my brief glance at the laminated card I was shown maybe 20 faces, one at a time, and asked to say whether I thought each face was older or younger than 40 (this was to help me concentrate, I was told). After glancing at each face and making my age determination, I had to re-walk the route/tour through my house like before to see if I could remember it. Then I was shown, individually, a series of black and white pictures and asked to say whether I remember seeing that image on the laminated card I got to look at for a whopping 15 seconds. THEN I was shown a bunch of faces and asked to say whether I had seen those faces before (from the over/under 40 thing). Then the bell went off - questions? check. Items? Check. And here are the faces I showed you earlier - what are their names? I could remember only 2 of the 3 names (first AND last), but with prompting of first letters only I was able to pull out the name I couldn't recall cold. And oh yeah, before we wrap this up, how many of the words from that first list can you remember now? (um, coffee - bell - moon - river - turkey - etc...)

Then, feeling bombarded and half loopy, she asked me what should be some simple, no-brainer stuff, "what year is it?" and "what month?" "what day of the week is it?" - I actually had to pause and think about it! Then she busts out with "who is the president?" and "who was president before this one?" and "who is the current govenor?" and "who was govenor before this one?". These I nailed. Don't ask me the date or day of the week, but ask me who was govenor 8 yrs ago and I'm golden. Apparently, I was the only testee (so far) who was able to correctly answer all of those questions. How sad is that??

Finally, dying of curiosity, I asked her how many of the words she gave in that list did I remember. Most of them? Did I consistently remember or forget the same words? She told me, much to my relief, that I remembered ALL of the words on the last 3 or 4 run-throughs.

Sweet Jesus, my brain is not completely shot!

The whole thing took about 1.5 hrs. She was a nice woman and it was sort of fun to do this. It gives me hope. But then again, she was asking me stuff from short-term memory in a setting in which I could cram and focus. If she were to ask me what I had for lunch 3 days ago I would surely fail.

The last test, I'm convinced, was remembering to ask for the $15. THAT I could never forget because duuuudde, $15 is $15, and I'm too cheap to forget something like cold, hard cash.

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