The Fine Line between Memory Loss and Absentmindedness.
Car keys are missing, pens have disappeared, and deadlines were missed.  Is this a cause of memory loss or absentmindedness?  Is it leading to something more serious or just plain falling victim to today’s fast changing world?

 Memories are powerful images recollected by the mind from the past.  However, critics describe memory as not literally taken from experience.  An individual’s personality, hopes, beliefs, and needs influence what the past means for each of us.  It is for this reason that forgetting the bits and pieces of the past or some information can be attributed to a person’s capacity to be focused.


There are two sides that actually dispute and bring together studies and explanations whether forgetfulness is a matter of memory loss or just simple absentmindedness. More often than not, people blame forgetting things to absentmindedness but this is not always the case.

Memory loss can affect any one, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, single or not.   Professor Daniel Shacter of Harvard University identified 7 sins of memory, one of which is absentmindedness.

This type of being forgetful happens when an individual does not pay enough attention to things happening around him.  Forgetting where eyeglasses were placed is because focusing where they were placed before hand was not established; hence, the brain did not securely register the information.  In other words you did not consciously instruct your brain to remember where you placed them.

Absentmindedness also involves being not focused on certain cues or hints that are essential to remind a person for example when to take pills or meet someone for lunch.

The doctor could have specifically instructed the patient to take the medicine after dinner but absentminded, forgot to do so.  That is because the patient did not pay close attention to the cue word: dinner.  Having dessert or watching TV could serve as hints that dinner has ended so taking the medicine is next.

Psychology critics say that absentmindedness is a sin or omitting valid information.  It is a breakdown of elements between memory and special attention.  When a person is preoccupied with many things, he gets distracted and does not focus on things that need to be remembered.

According to Dr. Shacter, “Usually when you are being absentminded, it’s that your conscious processing is focused on something other than the task at hand; you are thinking about something else.”

One of his famous examples is the story about YoYo Ma, the cellist.  Wherein this man gets inside the taxi in New York City and places his $2.5 Million cello in the trunk.  He pays the taxi driver upon arriving in his destination, gets out, walks away, but leaving the $2.5 Million cello in the trunk.  This situation, according to Schacter, is “a failure of attention at the time when memory retrieval is necessary.”

Another expert who is currently with the St. Louis University School of Medicine, Geriatric Psychiatry Director, Dr. George T. Grossberg, shares the same sentiments with Dr. Schacter.  He said that people now live in a multitasking world, “Many people just have sensory overload, wherein they have too many things going on at once, making them more likely to be absentminded.”  It becomes a behavior developed through life changing processes.  Tasks are forgotten since people have to deal with heavy schedules.  Absentmindedness happens when people age and get busier with their work and family.

Absentmindedness is totally different from having memory loss says Grossberg.  He shared a story about one his patients, who was taken to him by her family due to severe forgetfulness.  The family was alarmed when they started receiving calls from restaurants, department stores, coffee shops and other establishments telling them that the patient has left her wallet, bag or other important things.

Worry should start when a person begins forgetting things that just previously happened.  This may be stored information not just material things that can’t be recalled.  An absent minded person may forget where the car keys have been placed, while a person having memory loss forgets where he placed the car keys, won’t even realize they are lost and will eventually forget what those keys are for.

Individuals who forget things and start losing track of information of the past may change drastically.  It would start with their day to day activities and eventually could affect their analytical and planning skills.  In time it would change their manners of speaking, writing and comprehension.  Unlike absentminded people, they may forget simple things and appointments but it never alleviates their capacity to run things successfully in their lives.  Therein, is the difference between memory loss and absentmindedness.

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