Could ‘Lost’ Memories Be Restored?

Published: 22/05/2019

We can all be forgetful at times. How often have you walked into a room only to realise you can’t remember why you are there?

 
 
 
Written by: Ken Oxley  
Alzheimer's Society  
North East & Cumbria  
 

We can all be forgetful at times. How often have you walked into a room only to realise you can’t remember why you are there?

Such episodes are relatively common and every bit as likely to be the result of stress or mere distraction as a sign of early onset dementia.

However, there’s no denying short-term memory loss is associated with dementia in its early stages.

At the Alzheimer’s Society, we use what we call the ‘bookcase analogy’ to explain why these memories in particular are often the first to vanish.

Imagine, if you will, that your memories are books stored in a narrow, tall bookcase.

Your earliest memories – schooldays, first significant milestones and so on are on the bottom shelf. Above them are memories relating to your formative years; your early teens; first job; possibly marriage and starting a family. And at the very top are your more recent memories, including what you did last week, or even 10 minutes ago.

When dementia strikes, the bookcase begins to rock. And when this happens, it’s only natural that the books at the top are the first to tumble to the ground.

It’s a useful tool for explaining in simple terms how dementia affects people…but we might have to rethink it.


A recent study has held out the possibility that these short-term memories might not, after all, be lost, but merely misplaced. And, even more incredibly, that they could one day be restored. Here is a more detailed report about the study.

However, in a nutshell, researchers believe people with dementia may indeed be capable of storing recent memories, but that damage to their brains prevents them from being accessed.

At the moment, this is little more than a theory. And even if it is shown to be true, there still remains a question mark over whether such memories will ever be retrieved.

It does, however, offer hope to those of us who fear the worst when we find ourselves in a room wondering what we went in for. And it’s a sign that scientific research is moving in the right direction…even if the answers are a long way off.

To find out more about the Alzheimer’s Society and its services, visit our website at www.alzheimers.org.uk  and click on ‘local information’ on the Homepage menu.

Ken Oxley is the Media Officer for the Alzheimer’s Society in the North East and Cumbria. For information about the charity’s services call 01642 442030 or visit our website.