Police Psychology | Memories, May Be Beautiful, but then…Wait! What was I Singing!
We are servicing an aging police population and thus police psychology has to consider topics that escape younger people. For example, how many times have you put down your car keys for just a few minutes and then you forgot where you put it? Or your glasses? Or your book? Or your cell phone? Or how about forgetting the names of your child or spouse or pet, even just for a second? I can’t tell you how many times I say, “Come in here…um…uh…err…Fluffy! Yes! Fluffy! That’s your name!” (That’s my dog, not my daughter) Am I going crazy? Am I losing my mind? Is it early Alzheimer’s? What’s going on here?
CRS disease is a common affliction that affects many individuals, particularly middle-aged and older men and women. CRS disease—an acronym for “can’t remember sh**” (or, more pleasantly, “can’t remember stuff”)—is unavoidable. We all will get to a point where we just can’t seem to remember anything. Not the name of our co-workers, or the name of our favorite restaurant, or even the address of our best friend’s home. It is inevitable, it is expected—and it is scary. Imagine a police officer on the stand who has rehearsed what they were going to say 50,000 times, and now can barely remember their name. I can tell you firsthand that it sucks to remember the name of my favorite actress from my favorite movie one instant, and the next instant forget such a person exists. Where did that information go? I knew it just a second ago! Did it pick some dark recess in the fold of my cerebral cortex to settle down and taunt me? I can all but picture a wiry-looking neuron lying out in a beach chair, telling its friends, “Gary thinks he remembers the name of his favorite actress. Hah! I’ll show him who’s in charge.”
Okay, maybe my neurons aren’t deliberately out to get me. But still, how is it I can’t seem to remember as much as I used to be able to? I used to be able to read something interesting and recall it days later, source and all. I used to remember the names, faces, and extended families of all my co-workers and clients. I used to remember everyone’s birthday or phone number without the use of reminders from my phone. In fact, I used to remember everything my wife told me to do so she never had to ask me twice (okay maybe not that one). Where did all my memory go?
The Causes of CRS
Then I couldn’t find the bathroom and I walked directly in the closet…. Oh wait I was writing about something else…uh, oh ..memory, that’s right! There are a number of possible sources for CRS syndrome (or as the DSM labels it: “Amnestic disorders”). First, it is possible it is caused by medical factors, like trauma, a virus, or a head injury. When I had open-heart surgery, I had (and still have) a problem with retrieval. I looked at a fan in the corner of my office, and couldn’t come up with the name of the device. Five minutes later I remembered and have not forgotten it since, but first time retrieval after surgery was difficult. In open heart procedures, this is called “pump head,” from being on a pump that keeps your blood circulating. To determine if this is the case, talk to your local health care professional, or better yet talk to others who have been through the procedure. You’ll be surprised what you find out.
Other causes may lie in a relaxed sense of attention or vigilance. In your past, you may have had more energy or more motivation to notice everything. When you put your glasses down, you may have taken a split second to stare at the bananas right next to it on the counter, so when you go back to get your glasses, you have an easier time remembering where you put them. The more energy we exert with focusing and paying attention, the greater likelihood we will remember the information we observe or hear. Remember, memory comes from rehearsal, playing the event over in your mind, and when you stop rehearsing events in your life, you won’t remember as much. Age takes away that rehearsal that is subliminal, that occurs over and over when we are younger. And yes, a psychologist practicing police psychology should know this stuff from seeing so many police officers over a career. But as important, you need to have a grasp of memory if you are working with officers whose work relies heavily on their ability to recall.
Another cause can be over-stimulation. When we are younger, we have less things going on in our minds. Perhaps all we cared about was playing with our friends outside, or buying that new video game, or doing our homework. As we get older, we are presented with greater stimulation and responsibility. No longer must we just remember our own friend’s names—now we need to remember the names and addresses of our children’s friends, and our spouse’s friends, and our co-workers, and relatives. On top of that, we need to focus on paying the bills, and getting our kids to all their lessons and clubs on time. And showing up to their games. And submitting all our reports to our bosses. And cleaning the house and cooking dinner. And remembering the family reunion scheduled later this week. And the fact that we need to buy more bread and cereal. And who got pissed at us last week because we innocently said something they didn’t like. And…you get the point. There is so much going on in our lives that our brain needs to make room for everything. And it does this by pushing out some information that may not be as important as others. So instead of that wiry neuron lounging on a chair mocking me, it’s probably a disheveled neuron trying to force its way passed hundred of thousands of other neurons in its way, “Excuse me, pardon me, sorry, I need to get by you please. Gary would like to remember the name of his favorite actress.” Packed in between all the other information I store in my brain, it’s no wonder some information gets lost or sidetracked on its way to my mouth. The sheer enormity of everything we need to recall as we get older can have an enormous detriment on our memory processes.
So yesterday, I was talking to this officer and describing the first twilight transitional stage of sleep where you start jerking and have some hallucinations, and how it is what meditation is made of, and you can cover for a lack of sleep if you get there, and I can’t remember the damn name so I start stalling, and he notices and says…”can’t remember the name, huh?” I said “No idea.” He laughed and said, “let’s talk about my kids and we’ll come back to it.“ “Hypnagogic” I said five minutes later. We both laughed as it is not an everyday word. It now had a name and he was halfway to resolving it. With a little hypnosis I was able to change his pre-sleep state. And that’s the key. Move on and let it come back to you naturally. Usually it is a retrieval problem not a “forgot-the-concept” problem.
CRS may seem completely debilitating and disheartening, but don’t forget that you are not alone. We all suffer from varying degrees of CRS disease, and the more advanced in years you are, the greater your CRS is likely to be. Don’t look at it as a negative thing—see it as a badge of honor: you lived through a lot, you survived this long, you deserve a little breather from remembering every little detail. So fuggettaboutit.
- Relax — This is easy advice to give and not so easy to accomplish. You are joining a large club with many, many members. The CRS clan. You will survive without great retrieval skill and you will get to do some major work. Remember, Frank McCourt didn’t publish until he was well over sixty. Philip Marlowe didn’t appear until the author was well into his fifties, and Mary Wesley was seventy before she got published. It is the same in any field. You don’t lose it all until you stop using it. But the retrieval might be a little slower. You make up for it with other things.
- Don’t’ Be Afraid to Use Prompts — Prompting is using outside sources to jar your memories. Find things that are close to the topic of what you have forgotten. Thank heaven for the internet because nine of ten times you can type in keywords and by the bottom of the page you got it. Take your time and get it. Most of the times you won’t forget it again.
- Commiserate With Others – There are two types of persons over 40, those that admit occasional memory lapses and pure unadulterated liars. Tell others your best story of forgetting and listen to theirs. It will not help you RS but frankly it will make you feel good about laughing at yourself. Tell your local person practicing police psychology. Nothing helps a person better than having someone else riding the same journey with them.