A holiday package arrived from Cape Cod filled with goodies. It was clearly from a friend, because it was filled with things like fishing flies and a homemade fruit brandy. The enclosed card was signed, but I couldn’t place a face with the name or when we’d seen each other last. Was it just the ordinary fog of a mid-sixties brain?
I’m forgetting more stuff, need to write down reminders, and it’s harder to remember names. The fearful thought crossed my mind that these lapses might just be the beginning. I found myself wondering if I should look into it further.
Scientists are developing new drugs and genetic modifiers that might preserve brain function. Nobel laureates are doing fundamental research on how memory works. We have identified the specific parts of the brain that govern memory. A small, sea horse-shaped structure deep in the brain called the Hippocampus is where we store long-term memories. The prefrontal cortex is where short-term memory is stored. Soon, scientists will be able to identify the nerve cells responsible for specific thoughts and behaviors.
There is a piece of me that thinks if there is something out there that is going to keep me sharp, why not go for it? And then I think about the ethical issues: if we get into the business of improving the memory of a 65-year-old, then what about a teenager who can’t do well on math exams or the SAT? Do we help him as well?
If we were to discover the gene that makes you more sensitive to piano lessons, or one that improves math skills, don’t you think people would be standing in line to buy it? Genetic engineering will increase the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
I’ve decided not to pursue the testing. I’m still doing well and hope to come to this time focused not on how much has been lost, but on what I’ve gained. And I pray that age might also bring perspective, insight, and acceptance, because these are the cornerstones of wisdom.