What was that title again?

Adam Rosenbaum

Photo By Larry Dalton

Davis resident Adam Rosenbaum is the co-author of How to Remember Not to Forget: by Joan Who? and Adam Rosensomething, a wistful little self-help book for the memory-challenged. Rosenbaum, whose background is in adult computer training, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in instructional design. His co-author, Joan Houlihan, works in the field of senior health care back in Massachusetts, where she was Rosenbaum’s neighbor growing up. Their book describes in laymen’s terms how the memory process functions, while offering a variety of tips for dealing with lost car keys, forgotten ATM passwords and damaged synapses.

A lot of self-help programs make a big deal about recognizing that you have a problem. How come your book starts off saying to recognize that you do not have “a bad brain,” that there’s nothing wrong with it?

Well, one of the things with memory is that—it’s funny; I can’t remember who said this—but if you think you have Alzheimer’s, you probably don’t. If you’re worried that you have a memory problem, then it’s quite often the case that you’re really being distracted by something else, and it’s not a memory problem. Because if you do have a memory problem, you don’t have the brainpower to realize it.

I feel better already.

Yeah! So, if you’re not yourself, and your memory isn’t quite clicking, you’ll want to ask yourself: Are you under a lot of stress? Are you exhibiting signs of depression? Are you eating properly? All the things that wouldn’t make you feel good in general will also affect your memory and distract your brain from working properly. Because, just like the rest of your body, your brain needs antioxidants, vitamin B and things like this to work properly. If you’re eating wrong, and you’re not getting enough sleep, and you smoke, these things are bad for you anyway, but they also affect the way your blood vessels are operating, which means the blood doesn’t get to your brain properly, which also affects the way your memory works. So, a lot of these things, when you’re doing them right, are synergetic in the sense that they have a cumulative beneficial effect. And when you’re doing them wrong, they have a cumulative negative effect.

So, how did you and your co-author collaborate on the book?

It’s kind of a two-fold approach. We basically help each other learn more. I drew more on some of the academic stuff that I’ve been focusing on and some of the stuff I’ve done, ironically enough, in the [information technology] computer-training world. And she drew on her experience in the clinical setting, working with older people whose brains truly are not really clinically normal anymore.

Basically, we were able to categorize the kinds of things that can block your short-term memory—that’s where you have that 30 seconds to determine whether information is relevant or not, important enough to encode it into your long-term memory. We broke the impediments to successful short-term memory down into the six memory busters that are described in the book: information overload, inattention, repetition, unhealthy habits, stress and depression.

Your grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, yet you say he retained vivid memories of his youth.

There is an area deep in the brain that is responsible for learning and processing new information, and it’s called the hippocampus. As people begin to age, this is the area of the brain that gives older people the most trouble. In my grandfather’s case, he could tell you about baseball games in 1927. That stuff will never leave. It’s just the newer stuff that begins to get misplaced.

In your book, you tell an embarrassing story about “losing” your cell phone. Is that really true?

Yeah, I have a 2-year-old son, so if I’m trying to do something on the phone, I’m talking to someone, I need to write things down, I’m trying to remember important information, and my kid in the background is screaming “Elmo! Elmo! Elmo! Elmo!” it can be very difficult and very distracting. It literally prevents your short-term memory from doing the job it needs to do to encode the information into your long-term memory, because you become distracted by other events.

So anyway, I’m over here at Safeway in Davis with my son, and my wife calls me on the cell phone. So, I’m talking to her while trying to prevent him from destroying the store, and I’m reaching in my pocket for my shopping list, when all of a sudden I’m asking, "My God. Where’s my phone?" I went into a panic, and my heart started to race. You know how you go into that short-term panic—we’re just so connected to our little devices—and I really thought I had lost it. And my wife says, "Aren’t you talking to me on it?"