Multiple Sclerosis Memory Issues Force Me to Use New Methods

MS has prompted a reorganization of everyday memories for this writer

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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Before multiple sclerosis (MS), I was pretty proud of my memory. For the most part, I still am, but like many others with this disease, I now have trouble recalling information. For me, it’s one of the most irritating, (sometimes even infuriating), cognitive issues associated with MS.

I have always had a very visual memory. That’s not unusual, as many people seem to more easily remember things they’ve seen rather than heard, for example. I don’t have anything close to a photographic memory (if that truly exists), just an efficient way to store and recall information.

I didn’t know there was a proper name for it until later in life, but it’s called the method of loci, memory palace, or journey. You visualize a familiar location in your mind and place the things to be remembered throughout. My “palace” is actually a wood and stone house with different images of information stored in various rooms. It sounds complicated, but you do it, too, perhaps just not as deliberately. When you retrace your steps in order to find a lost object, you are taking a memory journey, just not a planned one.

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Adding to the collection

For me, items deliberately placed in the palace tend to stay there. In the past, I put only important things there, but I find myself having to place more trivial things there now — such as names, words I use every day, or images that were common enough that I never thought I’d have to use a method to remember them.

For example, I was recently trying to tell someone the name of the dealership where we’d purchased a car and I completely blanked. In my mind, I could see the car lot and office building. I could even see the sign where the name should have been, but it was like someone had erased the letters.

When I finally recalled the name, I put the key fob with their logo on it on a bench just inside the front door of my palace. It’s irritating because it doesn’t belong there. MS is making my memory palace cluttered with trivial things that I shouldn’t have to put in there in order to remember them. I’m not running out of space, it’s just that I never thought I’d have to organize my everyday memories. It’s not a bad thing per se, it’s just that I didn’t want to, and multiple sclerosis is making me.

Oh, by the way, today — Jan. 19 — is Good Memory Day. It’s a day set aside to recall positive, happy memories from the past, rather than dwelling on any negative things in your life. Experiences vary, but for me, MS is pretty negative — even downright depressing sometimes. It would probably do me (maybe you, too) good to stroll through the memory palace touching all the good memories in there.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

SimpliSandi avatar

SimpliSandi

An excellent way to corral the many things that we know-we-know.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Sandi! "Corral" might be the perfect term for it.

Ben

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Deb avatar

Deb

Thank you for sharing this. I too have primary progressive MS and find things are beoming harder to recall. Definitely will try your strategy.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Deb! It's not the rapid fire recall that I once had, but it works for me.

Ben

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ChefAl avatar

ChefAl

Interesting take on things. Not sure about the "palace" analogy or placing things in it to remember because by the time I recall something and tell myself to try to remember it, it's already left my mind with no idea what I was even thinking about. I work in Corporate finance, used to remember thousands of accounts and all their finaniclals, but now can hardly see, and even forgot my own name for awhile recently, forcing me to come to the realization that early retirement will have to happen. I'm glad the writer has been able to find a way to recall what was always second nature; it definitely is frustrating to go through that.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks for the comment! I wish the method of loci was faster....or that I was. I'm frustrated that I can't rapidly recall names, dates, etc that I heard/saw a minute ago or that I'm having to use a "method" for what was once second nature.

Ben

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Anikó Nánai avatar

Anikó Nánai

Unfortunately I have an extremally goog memory of bad experiences but I can't remember well the good ones. It's my problem and I try to change myself. I work hard, but it's a really hard job. When I don't remember names, I try to help myself saying the alphabet and it's helpful.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you!!! I thought I was the only one who had to run through the alphabet hoping to jar a name loose!

I wish neither of us had to, but it’s nice to know others do this too.

Ben

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Julie Nepveu avatar

Julie Nepveu

I do a lot f writing for my job. It has become increasingly difficult for me to write even simple sentences because I can’t remember the first part of the sentence by the time I get to the end, so I add the information again. My thoughts are also hard to organize into a coherent presentation. Do you have any thoughts about how to retrain my brain to be able to continue to write? Or approaches to organizing information in notes so it can all make it into the text?

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Hi Julie,

The method of loci (memory palace) is great for storage and recall, but (for me) it's slow. When I was working at a fast paced business after the army, I noticed that it was taking me longer and longer to answer an email. It wasn't that I didn't know what to say, but getting it from my head onto my screen took too long. Writing this column has helped, but I have to write an outline (a framework) first and then fill it in. Hardly fast and something I wouldn't have needed to do a year or two ago. I'm afraid I have nothing that's quick and able to restore the fast recall and organization I once had. Please let me know when you find it.

Ben

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Steve Sumersford avatar

Steve Sumersford

After living with RRMS for 40 years I found I was running through the alphabet trying to trigger a name of a person or place. It either works on the first trip through or it shows when I’m on to something else.
I have to settle down, inhale and carry on. Don’t let the old man in

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Steve! When my wife sees me go quiet and my eyes narrowing. She says, "You're running through the alphabet, aren't you?". I am thrilled to know that other people do it too.

Ben

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