Working Memory Deficits Can Make Errands into Mental Investigations
Nearly a decade after my head injury, memory glitches like this one are still a problem
I slowed to a stop at an intersection in the north end of town, my blinker on to turn right. A sinking feeling preceded the familiar thought to come.
Why the f*** am I here?
The thought wasn’t about existential angst or frustration with unclear directions or anything else like that. I literally couldn’t remember. A moment of deep thought later, the only thing I could remember about why I was in the car and at this intersection was that I was going somewhere to purchase something.
There were a few box stores ahead of me, on the other side of the intersection. I spotted an office supply store off to the right and something stirred in the back of my mind.
Am I going to Staples? Am I picking up the elastics I needed? Didn’t I decide I didn’t need those today?
While waiting to turn at the intersection, I concluded that while I had decided I didn’t need to buy elastics today, I must have thought of something else I needed too. I relaxed a little now that I had a destination, but I still had a problem.
What else did I need to buy?
As trivial as running an errand for office supplies might be, that triviality shows the debilitating effect of memory glitches like this one. Not only can you not rely on your own ability to remember what you’re doing, you can’t do what you can’t remember what you had set out to do. This makes tasks take both more time and more mental effort than they would ordinarily take. When you have less capacity to begin with, trivial tasks can become monumental.
Moments like the one I’ve just described have been common since I suffered a “minor” head injury nine years ago. I slipped on some ice and bounced my head off the pavement, losing consciousness for a few minutes and losing any memory of the moments leading up to the fall.
In the days and weeks that followed, I experienced pain, dizziness, blurred vision and other vision problems, and the rest of the laundry list of concussion symptoms that, yes, include memory problems.