I forget your name
August 21, 2009 8:22 PM   Subscribe

I forgot your name... and all other proper nouns.

My memory has taken a major turn for the worse in the last few years. Some cocktail of genetics, pregnancy (which really sapped my brain power despite my feminist ideology to the contrary) and several years of sleep deprivation associated with parenting. Or maybe its just getting older. Anyhow, I'm only in my 30s but my long-term memory as well as word recall skills are in the toilet. And recently I figured out that in the word recall department - proper nouns are significantly more difficult for me to recall than other words. I can't remember your name, place names, movie titles, city or state names.

So is there theory around memory loss that can help me understand why I would loose proper nouns before the rest of my vocabulary? And are there strategies specifically for remembering proper nouns and building memory health? I know about some of the mnemonic tricks for remembering stuff, but I guess I'm more interested in understanding the causes and more "sciency" suggestions for improving things.

posted by serazin to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the theories, but I do know that you can train yourself to remember proper nouns such as names. In my work, I have to make and maintain connections with significant numbers of people from all over the place, and I need to remember names. I generally do this through a process of association and visualization.

However, it's important to understand how you think. Some people rely on images, others actual sounds (heard in their head), or through some sort of physical activity.

I myself am visual, in that I see actual words when recalling them. If you can figure out how you think and learn, it will be helpful to design strategies.

It also helps if you make a conscious effort and develop a strategy. While I can remember the name of the director of software development at a company I have visited once in another city, I would *not* remember the name of his or her kids, and it's not just for distant acquaintences, but also for close friends (whom I only see a few times a year).

The explanation is, of course, that it's not that important to me. So I have to make a conscious effort, and that may be what you have to do.

My wife has had memory problems that lasted the duration of breastfeeding.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 PM on August 21, 2009

why I would loose proper nouns

Not to be snarky, but that should be "lose." It's okay, though, I see youngins do this all the time.

Forgetting names is something a lot of people have trouble with. And I experience conversations with a lot of people in all age ranges who can't remember the name of that one movie, with the guy... from the thing... So your memory frustrations may not be solely attributable to your age/lifestyle.

I do remember a story about a year ago about how new moms typically experience memory problems, and this CNN article pretty much sums it up, although I believe the version I heard also mentioned how it affected dads as well. They say it's hard to specify whether it's an external or internal thing, but at least you know it's fairly common for parents. Long-term sleep deprivation surely doesn't help either.

You mention you have difficulty remembering new things, but are you still able to easily recall things you've known forever, like your social security number, the address of where you grew up, parents' phone numbers, etc?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:48 PM on August 21, 2009

Oops! I *forgot* how to spell lose - ha ha!

I'm positive that my (admittedly always poor) memory is getting worse - specifically around word recall. Also and unfortunately, my kid is six now and has been sleeping through the night for several years, but my memory never bounced back after pregnancy and middle-of-the-night breastfeeding.

Besides word recall, I seem to remember many fewer experiences from my past than do the friends who shared those experiences with me. And I remember those stories in less detail than my peers.

Also don't remember my childhood phone number, my parents birthdays, or many other of these sorts of details (although with specific effort I can make myself memories these types of info. Somehow that seems different than the problem of not being able to pull up a name while telling a story though.
posted by serazin at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2009

A friend of mine has significant problems with proper names and nouns, as in he has forgotten the bulk of the names he once knew with eidetic recall, of movies, people, things, and so on.

The reason he has this problem is that he had a sizeable tumor removed from his temporal lobe about a year ago that, once it became symptomatic, appeared to affect that region of the brain and his ability to recall names and proper nouns.

I am not trying to scare you, but if you are seeing dramatic memory changes, you may want to speak to a doctor. (Yes, pregnancy is associated with increased forgetfulness of unknown cause and possible decreases in iq, but something _specific_ is something you should investigate..)
posted by rr at 9:57 PM on August 21, 2009

memorize. sorry.
posted by serazin at 9:57 PM on August 21, 2009

rr - did your friend exhibit any other symptoms? I'll mention my memory stuff to my doc when I see him in a couple weeks. Thanks for the heads up.
posted by serazin at 9:58 PM on August 21, 2009

Also certain medications, topamax for one, can cause word recall problems. If you are taking any medications, you might investigate their side effects.
posted by tamitang at 10:15 PM on August 21, 2009

You say it's nouns in particular - you may find it useful to google nominal aphasia.
posted by paduasoy at 1:52 AM on August 22, 2009

I am not a nutritionist or doctor or anything other than someone who occasionally has memory problems herself...

Maybe try eating more walnuts and fish.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:22 AM on August 22, 2009

I have exactly the same problem - I've always been poor at names of people and recognising faces (my undergrad friends would generally laugh at me after I'd walked past them a few times in the cafeteria and not seen them despite them waving), but I am now losing nouns in general while having no problem with adjectives or verbs. It started being noticeable when I was about 25 and has been getting noticeably worse since then (I'm 30 now).

I like to say I have nominal aphasia to give an excuse, but on reading the literature that seems to be what I have but 10,000 times more serious.

I'm not on drugs and eat my fair share of walnuts and fish.
posted by polyglot at 2:35 AM on August 22, 2009

I have this problem, too. When trying to think of a movie start's name, I can often remember everyone she married, dated and all her children's name's before I get get to the actual proper noun.
Tip of the Tongue is the subject of this Boston Globe article and the wikipedia link.

This blog article ties it to perimenopausal symptoms, but you'd be young for that. I know anecdotally this is more common for women than men and I have heard it described as "gal's heimers", but I can't find any studies that particularly address the gender difference and "Lost Noun Syndrome", and I have to leave for the day - but I hope this helps.
posted by readery at 6:29 AM on August 22, 2009

Don't give up the feminist ideology just because having a child hurt your mental faculties. How's your husband doing? I think sleep deprivation knocked 50 points off my IQ when my daughter was born, and a male friend with older kids assures me "it goes back toward normal asymptotically, but never quite gets there..." No proper-noun-specific troubles, but twice at work this summer I've struggled with a problem only to eventually discover that I'd found that problem and its solution months earlier.
posted by roystgnr at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2009

Wow - there's a name for my problem! Of course I won't remember it though. At least I don't have averbia!
posted by serazin at 11:17 AM on August 22, 2009

I agree that you should get it checked out by a doctor. Memory loss for certain things (like proper nouns) makes me think a specific part of your brain is involved. Of course, I am not a doctor, just a semi-paranoid fan of the brain in general.

Pregnancy does not lower your IQ. You get smarter when you're pregnant, you just think you're dumber.
posted by kathrineg at 11:37 AM on August 22, 2009

I have a friend who has difficulty remembering proper nouns in particular (not nouns generally, just proper nouns), and I haven't noticed any change in it over the past two decades. It's a minor inconvenience rather than a major problem for him. (We joke about it; also, we complement each other - he has a much better memory of places and directions than I do, so I remember the proper nouns and he remembers the directions.) So, for you, it may just be a fairly new characteristic that won't continue to get worse.

On the other hand - how's your exercise? If you've been raising a child for the past six years, maybe you've had less time for physical activities? I'm reading Brain Rules by neurophysicist John Medina, and the first chapter is all about exercise and brain function. He describes a study of more than 10,000 British civil servants which found that those with the lowest levels of exercise tended to have poor cognitive performance.

So, if you're not getting much exercise, you could try making time for it and see if you notice a difference.

You could even give yourself memory exercise while you're exercising your muscles - see if you can name all the Oscar-nominated movies of the past ten years and all their stars, or all the countries in the Americas, or all the presidents.
posted by kristi at 12:26 PM on August 22, 2009

Friend did not have any other symptoms.
posted by rr at 12:31 PM on August 22, 2009

Hi, same problem here! Of all the changes pregnancy and 13 months of breastfeeding wreaked on my body, the "brain damage" has been the worst. I have terrible aphasia when speaking, though for some reason it does not seem as bad when writing or typing. And like you, it seems especially bad for nouns (though not just proper nouns, for me). Some days it's okay, but then I'll get a three-day bout where I'm all "me talk pretty some day" and leave sentences trailing into oblivion that my husband helpfully fills in for me, if I've managed to provide enough context for what I mean. It's awful.

I get plenty of sleep and I have babysitting help with my son's grandparents living just a mile away -- not to mention a very very helpful husband who alternates "morning duty" with me every other day. But my language and my memory are still not what they once were. My speed and accuracy at web coding (PHP, MySQL, XHTML, CSS) is noticibly (to me) reduced. And yes, I take vitamins and fish oil supplements.

I actually felt great while pregnant; these problems only hit me after childbirth. I do think they were worse while breastfeeding -- which suppresses estrogen (and ovulation), much as a woman has low estrogen in (peri-)menopause, so maybe that's why the brain fog symptoms seem similar. But it's been almost a year since I stopped and I have never really recovered my full faculties. It's maddening and a little scary. I'm planning on having more children; if this kind of post-partum language and memory damage is cumulative, will I eventually be reduced to caveman-like grunts?

If I had this same level of cognitive difference after, say, being in a car crash, you can bet I'd be demanding a full work-up to see what the hell happened and looking for potential medical help. But if you're the mother of a young child, I have learned that doctors will look at you sympathetically and say that this is normal and do basically nothing.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:56 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I had induced labor with pitocin, which is basically synthetic oxytocin. It took two days. I have to wonder if that stuff could be slightly responsible -- sure, it makes your uterine muscles contract, but it's also basically a massive and prolonged dose right into your bloodstream (via IV) of a drug that has known effects on human brain chemistry. But, hey, as long as it gets the baby out, right?

I want my brain back, dammit!
posted by Asparagirl at 12:11 PM on August 23, 2009

Asparagirl, you will get your brain back, but maybe slightly altered and for the sake of our sanity, let's say it is a better brain. I had almost 10 years of the pregnancy/nursing brain (3 kids/3 yrs apart) and when I wondered if I'd ever get my brain back one of my sisters told me she never did. I am here to tell you you do, it just takes a while.

I'm a CPA and it took until kids were in school until I felt confident of my mathmatical acuity, but with that sustained memory loss over 9+, who am I to judge? ;)

Hormones are a motherfucker.
posted by readery at 12:34 PM on August 23, 2009

Thanks guys. At the very least it helps to know I'm not alone.
posted by serazin at 6:01 PM on August 24, 2009

« Older how to restore a headstone   |   Email address before download ? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.