From: Frank Gue <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Memory – “Diagnosing Dementia”, March 15
Filename: Economist re Alzheimer’s March 14
Date: 26 March, 2014
To: Letters, The Economist, London, UK
This is a suggestion for a subject for one of your excellent science and tech editors:
It’s commonplace to note that loss of memory is an unwelcome development with advancing age; but there is an interesting complexity that is worthy of study.
I’m talking to someone. I need a word. Not an unusual word – just a word. I can’t find it. Embarrassing pause. Maybe I find it but sometimes I don’t. Or I find it an hour later – or a week later, as it pops up unbidden. My brain was obviously working in it all this time, unbeknownst to me.
In conversation, someone uses that word. I recall it and fit it into the context instantly – in milliseconds or microseconds – without giving conscious thought.
So it’s clearly not a memory problem – the word was there all the time. It’s an access problem. And the access problem is two-way: quick and instantaneous incoming, slow, error-prone and clumsy outgoing; also a clear demo of the brain’s ability to identify a problem and work on it somewhere far in the background.