Forgot a name or two? Just use your mental rolodex

With all the negative stereotyping out there about Losing It as one grows older, I’m naturally a little anxious.

I measure my weight and blood pressure and blood glucose. I wear a pedometer all day to track aerobic steps (walking fast or running) and pedometer steps (walking from my desk to the bathroom. And back). I’m reassured that so far all systems are working well.

Anxiety about Alzheimer’s

However, I do worry about Alzheimer’ Disease because—while we know that the risk increases rapidly with age—we don’t know what causes it, how to prevent it, how to treat it, or how to cure it. The prospect of losing my memories, including memories of how to do the simplest task, is terrifying.

So these days, while one part of my brain is doing a mental task—such as recalling a name from the past—another part of my brain is observing from the sidelines to see how well the first part is doing.

A few months back, I observed myself recalling something I hadn’t thought about for decades, based on hearing three words of a song when I was leaving a restaurant.

The rolodex theory of memory recall

That experience led me to formulate a theory. Its basic premise is that memory for names and events—every class, teacher, boy-friend or girl-friend, TV show, movie, baseball game, song, book, chemical on the Periodic Table of the Elements, and so on—is contained on a mental rolodex. And the more jammed with cards the rolodex gets, the longer it takes to recall a particular name.

Recently, I had an experience that was similar to the earlier one but more complex. This time I’d gone to a department store to buy some clothes and—as I was walking out the door with my packages—I heard music on the speaker system.

Take a load off Fanny

Take a load for free

Take a load off Fanny

And put the load right on me

Spinning my mental rolodex

Walking out the door, I recalled the name of the group. Originally Bob Dylan’s backup group, these extraordinary musicians didn’t need any fancy name. They were just The Band, and they ruled!

But here’s the impressive part. I started to name the individual members of the band as I got into my car and began driving home.

OK…..Levon  Helm….Robby Robertson….uh..Rick Danko…… uh…..Richard Manuel……….and the other one, Garth Hudson. (I couldn’t come up with his name myself, so I Goggled “The Band” when I got home).

I remembered the song “Up on Cripple Creek.”

I remembered that Richard Manuel—a exceptional singer and musician—had committed suicide.

I remembered seeing a documentary, called “The Last Waltz”, of an outstanding concert with The Band and other musicians, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, and EmmyLou Harris.

And, finally, I remembered seeing The Band (minus Robby who’d left the group by then) playing in Boston on the Charles River Esplanade around 1990. As I drove home, I jotted down these things every time I came to a stop-light.

What does this all mean?

It means that I can still access that metaphorical rolodex in my head, crammed full of all sorts of memories. It means that hearing just a few words or a few lines of a song from years ago triggers specific recall of singers and bands and concerts.

It means that hearing the incredible music on YouTube brings back the past—not Living in The Past which is commonly seen as a pathetic thing that old people are wont to do—but taking great pleasure in the music of this incredibly talented group. It was wonderful in the late 60s and the 70s and 80s. It still is.

Have you had experiences like this? What was it that triggered a memory? When you’ve recalled something, have you followed up by checking it out on Google or Internet Movie Database or YouTube or some other source? I’d love to hear your comments, and I hope you enjoy the videos.

photo by marfis75

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