Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bil and "Super Memory"

On 60 Minutes tonight there was a "Super Memory Summit" concerning a researcher who is investigating people who have perfect memories.  In other words, they can remember what happened every day of their lives.

The people in his study are from all walks of life.  One, Marilu Henner, is an actress.  What they have in common is the ability to remember the events of their lives, as if it had just happened yesterday.  And it isn't just the fact that, for example, a football game was on that day. They remember every play.

Marilu Henner, asked about what happened on a particular date, was able to remember her taping of a commercial over 30 years ago, down to the smallest detail.  When the 60 Minutes producers obtained the tape, they found that she was right in every detail.

What researchers find (after quizzing them to establish their total recall, then running them through memory tests, and giving them brain MRI's) is quite fascinating. I suggest you watch the online clip.

One question that came up was whether the people in the study have autism.  Many of the people reported people asking them that question, or alluding to the movie Rain Man.

So what does this have to do with Bil?  Well, I'm not sure Bil remembers everything about every day of his life. Due to his communication disabilities it would be very hard to establish this.  However, in some ways he is the family historian.  When my father in law died and I was on the phone with Social Security, he immediately remembered the date his father retired (and the day of the week it was, and the weather.) Recently I helped my mother in law fill out Social Security paperwork for Bil, and I needed to know the date of his last doctor's visit.  Immediately Bil knew the date, the time, and what he had for lunch afterwards-along with the weather.

For years, we've depended on Bil to immediately know the date of, for example, the next Easter.  He is right every time.  He carries a calendar in his head, so in other words this total recall extends into the future.

What I found fascinating about the study is that all of the participants have a visual recall of the memory (similar to a person with autism "seeing in pictures"), almost like they are going through a file cabinet to find the memory.  What was also fascinating was that all of the participants seem to have an element of obsessive/compulsive behavior.  (there is some of that on my father's side, so I do have some knowledge of this disorder.).  Of curse, OCD is not autism, but when it comes right down to it:  the brain is so complex and we need to find out so much more about memory.  Perhaps one day these studies will point to a treatment for Alzheimers (for example).

In the meantime....will we ever find a way to communicate with Bil?

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