MURFREESBORO — The science fiction author William Gibson said, “Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
Gibson may write science fiction, but his words are grounded in scientific fact. That’s why an MTSU professor is offering people a chance to find out where they stand.
Dr. Paul Foster, an associate professor of psychology and a clinical neuropsychologist, supervises graduate students as they provide free memory screenings at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic.
“Based on the results of this little screener, we can determine whether or not there is any cause of concern for something that might be affecting memory and cognitive functioning in these individuals,” Foster said.
In a visit lasting about 30 to 45 minutes, the screener administers a battery of memory and cognitive tests. For one example, the screener might recite some numbers or words and ask the client to recite them.
The tests measure attention and the speed with which the client processes information, among other qualities. Foster, who selected the tests, interprets the results.
There are no X-rays and no physical examination. The process and the results are kept strictly confidential.
The MTSU students who administer the tests, which are available by appointment between the clinic’s business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., do so as part of their required 300 hours of practicum experience.
“For the students who are interested in doing neuropsychology-related work later on, this represents an opportunity for them to get their feet wet,” said Foster.
Not all memory problems are necessarily age-related. And not all memory problems are necessarily indicative of a serious illness. However, sometimes seemingly minor recurring issues could be warning signs of a severe problem.
Foster said the initial memory problems that come with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, are subtle.
“The pathology of Alzheimer’s disease affects the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming new memories,” said Foster. “As the disease progresses, it starts [affecting] more and more of the brain, including the frontal lobes, which are involved in planning and decision making.”
Parkinson’s disease affects the brain somewhat differently in that it hampers the connections that the frontal lobes have with the rest of the brain.
A less frequently occurring brain problem is Lewy body dementia, which is characterized by memory impairment, hallucinations and fluctuations in level of arousal and alertness in patients.
“You may be talking with them and they’re fine and very clear, but then, an hour later or the next day, they’re looking through you and not at you when you’re talking to them,” Foster explained.
Foster sees more patients who suffer from vascular dementia, which is caused by mini-strokes. The risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. That’s why Foster urges people to have mentally and physically active lifestyles in their retirement years.
“Reading is good for you as you age, but it’s not just reading for the sake of reading,”
Foster said. “It’s reading for the sake of improving yourself and what you know about things and about life.”
Foster also says mnemonic devices are helpful. These are learning techniques such as associating what you want to commit to memory to other things.
For example, “if it’s a grocery list you want to remember, you create a story around the list,” said Foster.
In the meantime, learning more about the state of your memory and cognitive skills is a positive step. The present-day ability to remember the past can bode well for a healthy and happy future.
For more information about the free memory screenings at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic, 1272 Garrison Drive, contact Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the clinic at 615-867-8090 or 1-800-842-6692.