July 6, 2017

Forgetfulness Can Actually Be Good For Us

Posted in: Latest News, Research and Developments

by Dan Roberts

Research published in the June 2017 issue of the journal Neuron (1) suggests that loss of details in our memories may be beneficial to those of us who are visually impaired.

Vision is eyesight, memory and logic working together. (2) Visually impaired individuals learn from experience that when eyesight is less clear, memory is called upon to do more work. Retrieving our house keys, therefore, becomes unusually stressful when we cannot remember where we put them and don’t have the good eyesight to search.

As our age increases, our memory decreases, which can thwart our most valiant attempts at living well with vision loss. This new study, however, offers some comfort by explaining that forgetting is a healthy function of the brain. We are better able to perform important tasks when our brains unclutter themselves of the less important details. According to the authors, forgetting is as important as remembering, because it frees up our neurons to allow clearer thinking and decision making.

They tell us that trying to remember as many details as possible is not only unnecessary, it can slow our thought processes. And with loss of vision, we need to keep our thinking and decision skills on the fast track. We can write down or record the details we don’t need every day and then forget them, as long as we remember where to find them if necessary. Even the smartest computer does that to keep things running smoothly. It keeps most recent data in Random Access Memory (RAM) where the information can be retrieved quickly, while it moves older, rarely-used data to permanent files on a hard disc. A very efficient imitation of the human brain.

So forgetting can be good for us if it means keeping our minds clear and efficient enough to handle the challenges of everyday life. After all, how important is remembering a birthday if you can’t remember the name of the person blowing out the candles?

References:

1. Blake A. Richards and Paul W. Frankland. The Persistence and Transience of Memory (Neuron, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037)

2. Visual Skills Workbook For People with Age-Related Macular Degeneration
by Leslie Burkhardt, MSLVR (published online at http://lowvision.preventblindness.org/publications/visual-skills-workbook-for-people-with-age-related-macular-degeneration/

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