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Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering

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“This book is both fascinating and useful. The distinguished memory researcher Scott A. Small explains why forgetfulness is not only normal but also beneficial. By allowing us to see the forest as well as the trees, forgetting promotes creativity and pattern recognition. This readable book will help you understand how the right mix of forgetting and memory allows you – and our whole society – to be emotionally healthy.” – Walter Isaacson

“Scott Small has written a book that will calm the fears of anyone who has mislaid a pair of glass or couldn’t remember the name of an acquaintance and worried they were suffering from incipient memory loss…” – Sue Halpern

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review, but I decided this would be the perfect time to get back into it. I recently read a great book called “Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering” by Dr. Scott Small, a physician specializing in aging and dementia and the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. His expertise on neurology makes this book readable, concise, and entertaining, with plenty of first-hand stories to go in depth on the topics he introduces.

Have you ever misplaced your keys and thought to yourself that something must be changing in your brain? Well, don’t worry. I’m here to reassure you that everyone has these kinds of forgetful phases. One of the most important things to know about memory was clarified in the first chapter; it was the difference between normal and pathological forgetting. Normal forgetting is as the name implies: people forget things almost every day. It is normal and aids in the process of making us feel good about ourselves and allows us to move on healthily. In a short story Funes, the Memorious, the main character, Funes, is unable to forget. For example, if someone were to mention something, such as a leaf to me, I would connect leaves to trees and fall, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how many leaves I’ve seen, when I saw them, who I was with, and how many were on the ground. However, Funes remembered every leaf he’d ever seen on every tree, and even when he imagined or thought about it. As you may imagine, this would be miserable, and you wouldn’t ever be able to experience a wistful memory. Pathological forgetting, in contrast, is forgetting revved up due to viral infections or neurons acting up for a perceived threat.

Dr. Small talks about a lot of different conditions and how it can impact the brain’s memory capacity, but one disease struck me as important: Alzheimer's. This disease causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's mainly impacts our seniors, and although there is medicine to slow its progression, Dr. Small does not recommend it to his patients as there are harmful side effects and it will not cure Alzheimer’s. As the book details, it starts with what may seem like normal forgetting to some: recent events, names, and conversations. However, as the disease progresses, it causes serious memory problems and the loss of the ability to perform day to day tasks. Overall, severe loss of brain function can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and infection. The book’s structure and stories mainly focus on the area where there are serious memory problems and pathological forgetting.

The stories and patient interactions that Dr. Small introduces in his book make the read even more easy to follow and provides a break in between the information parts. If you have been following my book review posts for a while, you know how much I love informational novels, but with the story telling portions weaved in. The interactions Dr. Small describes with his patients are touching and pulled at my heart, as I can easily see the situation in my mind and can put myself in their shoes. Dr. Small’s empathy also shows how much he cares about this subject, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the brain, regardless of how much background knowledge you have. Dr. Small explains everything related to modern neurology and holds your hand as he walks you through complex ideas. It’s captivating and relevant, and I am confident that even the most reluctant reader would enjoy this engaging book.

Make sure to like this post and rate it below. Also if you have any questions about Alzheimer’s or any other memory related issues, follow this link and post it on my forum: Thanks for reading!

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Nov 22, 2023
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