Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cathryn Jakobson Ramin

Helaine Olen interviewed Cathryn Jakobson Ramin about her new book Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife for Salon.

Here is the introduction to the interview and their first exchange:

Memory, as Oscar Wilde wrote, is the diary that we all carry about with us. Open one volume, and you recall a summer picnic from childhood. Open another and there's a grocery list from last week. But what happens when the journal pages get stuck together? Or, even worse, tear loose and vanish entirely?

Thanks to advances in medicine and ever-lengthening life expectancies, most of us will live to find out just how ephemeral memory can be, says Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the new book "Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife." Beginning in our 40s or 50s, we may begin to misplace words -- not to mention our house keys -- with greater frequency. And for some, that forgetfulness will turn pathological, leading gradually down the path toward dementia: According to the Alzheimer's Association, adults who survive past the age of 85 currently have a 42 percent chance of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Ramin, now 50, embarked on an investigation of the causes and possible cures for middle-aged absent-mindedness after she began having her own brushes with forgetfulness. "My mental calendar, once easily summoned, grew elusive and developed blank spots," she recalls. "Life became billowy, amorphous, as if someone had removed the support poles from my tent."

Determined to beat back the fog, Ramin turned into a human guinea pig, experimenting with everything from memory-enhancing tests to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals and sleep research. She altered her diet, cut back on multitasking, reduced her stress levels and visited experts who study how memories are formed and retained. Her conclusion: We can't stop time, but we can hinder its effects by taking better care of both our bodies and minds.

Salon sat down with Ramin in San Francisco, where she talked about the nature of memory, the curative powers of ballroom dancing, and why so many of us are scared to even say the word "Alzheimer's."

When did you realize you were losing your memory?

I noticed I'd started to forget things that I should have been able to remember. Once I went to a movie with my husband and five minutes out of the movie theater, I realized I did not know the name of the movie or the name of the main character. It was just gone, a blank.

Suddenly there were sinkholes, as if the information had just been sucked down the drain. And I started to notice a tremendous amount of what I called "content-less conversation." I would exchange information, decide on a plan and then it would be as if nobody remembered what had been said. People were relating these stories over and over to me.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue