Vital Memory: what is it?

Vital Memory Loss In 1999 Drs. Vernon Mark and Jeffrey P. Mark, M.Sc. published a book with this title.

In it, they discuss an aspect of human remembering: the one that allows you to remember how to do the basic of activities of your job or your daily life. Someone who is losing their Vital Memory begins to make mistakes or gets confused. 

It can reach the point of not remembering how to dress or even a the face of a family member or a close friend.

If you lose these abilities, you will not be able to care for yourself or live independently. That is why Doctor Mark wants to prevent and even reserve this condition if it has started. If you are experiencing such loss of memory or it you know someone who is, read on.....

Finding the cause: the key to improvement

Dr. Mark notes that in his practice he has found a number of treatable causes.

Stress that triggers bad experiences from the past. A sudden change in circumstances now can evoke long ago 'bad memories' so that a person is unable to function normally. He offers several examples from his own experience with patients:

  • A woman who grew up in an abusive household who was able to get training and worked in a job that offered her steady employment and security.  Suddenly a lawsuit threatened the security she had worked so hard to achieve and she found that her performance at work began to deteriorate. She made mistakes. Things deteriorated until she could barely get through the day. She feared she would be fired because she could not remember the simplest things.
  • A man who had founded a small business and grown it into a flourishing enterprise suddenly found that he could no longer make the decisions necessary for the job. He could not remember customers or even what he did last week. He had become irritable at home. His marriage was in jeopardy.In both cases, Dr. Mark notes that unbeknown to each patient, an current event in their lives triggered an old, unresolved fear and their bodies reacted with extreme stress - something that can greatly interfere with even vital remembering. He describes how taking some time off from work AND practicing specific exercises for relaxation (example: relaxing the top joint of their index finger) so they could produce less cortisol (the stress hormone that can destroy brain cells). Both patients recovered and were advised to continue their new found skills.
  • Depression can interfere with memory and function.
  • There are many things that can cause or increase depression as we age: social isolation, death of a spouse, moving to a new place that means a loss of old friends, a gradual loss of mobility, a change in the neighborhood that makes going out more dangerous. Any loss of social interaction can cause or increases depression. Dr. Mark notes that depression is can cause both loss of vital memory and intellectual deterioration. But this loss IS reversible. Depression can interfere with concentration, with learning new things. It can make us easily distracted. We have a short attention span. We can not concentrate and we lose interest in life - often forgetting to bathe or change our clothes or even eat. The lack of adequate nutrition adds to the downward spiral. All this is reversible - often without the use of prescription drugs. 
  •  In Reversing Memory Loss Dr. Mark gives an example of a patient who appeared quite senile but who was suffering from depression after the death of his wife. Putting in place an exercise program (there are a number of scientific studies that show aerobic exercise eg. walking can alleviate depression). He also recommended getting a dog for companionship. And ensuring that nutritious meals would be available. Result? the man revived and was able to continue to live on his own.
  • Alcoholism and drug use can lead to memory loss Dr. Mark offers two full chapters on these topics. Anyone with either addiction is at risk for losing vital memory and not being able to take care of themselves as they age. With clinical, medical intervention to treat the addiction, memory often improves after sobriety is reached.
  • Prescription medication can cause the loss of vital memory. Long term use of a medication, a change in a medication dosage or strength, an interaction between a new medication and those one has been taking can all be direct causes of the loss of vital memory and/or depression that can lead to memory loss. This is another reason why anyone who experiences changes in memory should be seen by their medical provider immediately and if the problem is not solved, they should consult a neurologist. These things can be helped - the sooner the better the chance of improvement
  • Changes in body chemistry and certain medical conditions can also lead to a loss of vital memory. Many of these conditions are treatable and when they are treated, memory is restored. Two common examples are: Vitamin B12 deficiency Reversible Memory Loss - B12 or Lyme disease which can be present even if you do not remember being bitten by a tick.
  • Alzheimer's disease can also be the cause of the loss of vital memory. There has been so much publicity about Alzheimer's in recent years that it is often the first thing that someone thinks of when faced with a friend or relative exhibiting the signs of a loss of vital memory. But as this essay show there can be many other things that can cause such loss AND THAT THEY ARE TREATABLE. Remember there is no known medical test of Alzheimer's disease. The diagnosis is only offered as explanation of a loss of vital memory that can not be explained by any other the other possible causes. 
  • That is why anyone who appears to have loss of the vital remembering that makes it possible to function on a daily basis needs to be seen by a good neurologist who will test for all the other treatable causes (some of which are listed above) 
  •  I strongly recommend that you read Peter Whitehouse's book. Peter Whitehouse, MD, PhD is a Professor at Case Western Reserve University and one of the best known Alzheimer's experts in the world. HIs book, The Myth of Alzheimer's was published in 2008 and it offers practical information and more HOPE than any work I have read on the topic. If you are concerned or know someone who is concerned, I suggest that you get a copy from your library or  buy a copy at

  • To find more articles about Memory, read the Introduction and Index of  articles about Memory

    There is an excellent and inexpensive Tai Chi program you can do at home to reduce stress, go to  Tai Chi for Seniors. 

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