Memory loss is like a damaged file cabinet

I am on a journey to understand dementia as it impacts my loved one. Dementia is not the diagnosis but rather a general term for memory loss, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that interfere and impair daily life and the ability to live independently.

My loved one has a mixed diagnosis and it includes short term memory loss. She will not process new memories normally. They may be loss completely or partially remembered. Often the partial memory results in confabulation, she fills in gaps in memory by fabricating memories. They are real to her.

Several years ago I went to a lecture held by a local Alzheimer organization and I heard a description of what is going on in my sister’s brain and it has stuck with me.

Envision memories like a series of file cabinets. Each cabinet has many drawers and in those drawers are folders. The folders contain the memories. Over your lifetime more file cabinets are added as more memories are created.

When recalling a memory, you open the appropriate drawer, pull out the appropriate folder and access the needed memory.

Now imagine that the newer file cabinets designated for new memories have an open bottom and if you are to look down, you see a bottomless pit. This is a design flaw, the older cabinets are not impacted.

When my sister brain stores a the new memory, the file cabinet drawer is open and the new memory may be stored in a folder and she can retrieve it when needed.

Or she may miss a folder completely. It falls down but there is nothing to catch the memory because the bottom of the cabinet is missing . It is lost forever. Never to be retrieved.

She may store part of a memory correctly. Some of the memory make the folder properly and the remainder falls into the bottomless pit. When she goes to retrieve the memory she only has part of it. The missing parts are recreated with what she believes to be true. The memory is then filed back into that folder with a combination of actual and fabricated memories. Each time she accesses that memory it contains the mixture.

She may also retrieve a new memory stored properly but after a few returns she misses the folder and cannot retrieve it ever again

Now imagine that her file cabinets can never be repaired.

That’s the part I struggle with. I want to repair the file cabinets but I can’t.

HartFelt wishes for acceptance and patience for all caregivers of loved ones with dementia

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