Nita Nettleton: Try to concentrate on remembering where the sea slugs are

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2001

It's usually heartening to find that others share a problem I have, but I am terrified to learn that four million Americans are with me in declining memory function. Who does that leave other than my husband to remind me that I have a problem? Perhaps I knew in some little forgotten corner of my mind that this was coming, but the article in Sunday's paper about the development and acceptance of memory improvement drugs hit me like a ton of elephants. A researcher won a Nobel Prize in medicine for figuring out what makes sea slugs remember. On the one hand I am consumed with curiosity about what sort of pressure it takes to make them remember something. On the other, I feel ashamed that Ive been so wrapped up in my own memory decline, I never considered that sea slugs would have things to remember.

What we remember and why is baffling. I can recite a poem I learned in kindergarten ("The Swing," Robert Louis Stevenson) yet can't remember any recent instructions from my husband for simple household errands. I don't even remember that he gave me the instructions. This is beyond baffling to my husband. He has signed me up with the sea slug researcher; we are hopeful he can find what it takes to make me remember, too. I just hope it doesn't involve a lot of steam and/or surgery.

We four million Americans have a lot to remember. In the last 30 years or so, we have complicated our lives exponentially. Take two of the most basic things in our culture, coffee and jeans. Formerly simple, now complex. I guess there is the computer thing, too. Our hometown has become our global community; our nuclear family is a family of nations. We have a lot of birthdays to remember.

That some of us can't keep up with our modern world is distressing and we are more than a little interested in ways to restore or enhance our memories. I know I had read about several things, but couldn't remember, so looked them up. I started with an Internet search and was pleased to find 15,794 sites containing "sea slugs." I read them all, but can't recall anything now except a recipe from the Kwakuitl that included how to collect, clean and steam them. A key part is that you have to paddle at low tide to a place where you know they are. I doubt there is a marker, so you'd have to remember it. Next I looked up gingko biloba, 12,460 sites. Herbs can be baffling, but I was saddened by the news that "gingko's effectiveness has proven to be an important herb with continuing research." Perhaps we need 12,461 sites.

Forget the herbs, there is plenty of science out there working on memory enhancement. I found 124,528 Internet sites containing "memory enhancement" but didn't understand enough of it to remember anything. That's not quite true, I was shocked to read (and fled into denial) that I'm only using 10 percent to 20 percent of my gray matter. I was invited to purchase a product called Skip Trace to track down the rest of it and charge it with vagrancy.

The point of Sunday's article, if I'm remembering correctly, is that the FDA considers memory enhancement substances to be cosmetic today, but perhaps they won't in time and we should all invest now. Today's frivolity may be tomorrow's accepted essential. And it will be considered so because so many people will be lined up for it and have money behind it. Sure, we are only 4 million now.

I am happy to report that I am making a lot of progress as a subject with the memory research guy. He has concluded that, surprisingly, sea slugs have been using all of the gray matter I wasn't using and with enough steam and no small threat of evisceration, they can be forced to divulge everything I knew and when I knew it.

*****

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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