"Where Did I Leave My Glasses? The What, When and Why of /Normal /Memory Loss" (Wellness Central. 245 pages. $22.99), by Martha Weinman Lear: The place where you left your glasses or the car keys ought to be anchored in your brain, thinks author Martha Weinman Lear. No need to wonder about it, or fret that you've lost your memory.
"Consecrate a place," she writes. "Put a hook in the wall right by the door, and that hook is the holy place for the keys. Fix the hook in plaster or wood; fix the association in cement."
By association she means a trick that goes back to the ancient Romans: Link the memory you want to keep with something that looks or sounds like it. If you have a globe in the living room, for example, or a vase for gladioli, you might consecrate the place for your glasses next to the globe or the gladioli.
Then you cement the association by going around saying "glasses-globe" or "glasses-gladioli" at 10-second intervals for several minutes — or until someone threatens to call 911.
More pervasive than misplacing glasses, she says, is the embarrassment caused by running into an old friend and forgetting his name. Remembering a name will take an effort. Repetition is one way. But it requires a bit of time and attention. Saying it over and over in quick succession won't help much.
"Far better to repeat it silently when you first hear it, wait 10 seconds, silently say it again, wait 20 seconds, bring it back up, wait 30 seconds, repeat," she suggests.
Lear sees forgetting a name as a small deal. It's in there somewhere, it just has to be retrieved, she says. She quotes Dr. Norman Relkin, head of a memory disorders program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, as blaming such slips largely on normal shrinkage of the human brain. Average rate, he estimates, about half of 1 percent a year, beginning in your 30s.
She considers it more serious that in recalling a minor memory disaster some people worry seriously that they must be getting Alzheimer's. She compares such worry with what she calls the Med Student's Syndrome: First year medical students often think they have symptoms of whatever disease they happen to be studying.
Lear, a former articles editor at The New York Times, strews her chatty and informative book with anecdotes and quotations from scientists. She seems to have met as many neurologists as there are kinds of dementia (about 70, including Alzheimer's).
There's what the experts call procedural memory, such as tying shoelaces or riding a bike — the things you learn once and for all. She quotes Helen Singer Kaplan, a psychiatrist and sex therapist, who says the last memory to go is knowledge about making love.
"As long as you're physically healthy, you can be doing it when you no longer remember who you're doing it with," Kaplan says.
The author looks forward to the possibility of a memory chip in the brain.
"Now we go to the computer and Google for the information we want," she hears from Rodney Brooks, former director of the computer science lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But let's imagine we may just think it in the future. Let's imagine that by having connections in our language centers and a virtual Web browser in our visual cortex, we may just think what we want to search and have the results appear in our minds."