“Despite memory’s obvious benefits, it can also let us down,” says Daniel Schacter, author of "The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers." "Memory, for all that it does for us every day … for all the feats that can sometimes amaze us, can also be a troublemaker.”
In an article this year in Harvard Health Publishing, Schacter described the problems that occur with aging, the "seven sins," as normal memory problems. They are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence.
Transience describes much of our memory. These are things we don’t regularly need to recall or use. Much more can be remembered of recent events than those further in our past.
Our memories have a use-it-or-lose it quality, so memories that are called up and used frequently are less likely to be forgotten.
Some might think that transience is a sign of memory weakness; however, brain scientists believe it is advantageous because it clears the brain of unused memories, making way for newer, more useful ones.
Typically, after an event happens, something that is meaningful or impactful, most people have a good recollection of it. Over time, though, the accuracy seemingly declines, specifics get muddled and just the substance or the significance of the event remains.
For example, older adults most likely remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as others might remember the 9/11 catastrophic event. These are memorable events in which transience is high. Less memorable events are forgotten almost entirely.
When we are recalling a memory of an event, we tend to reconstruct as best we can by filling in details, often incorrectly, and assuming the event was similar to others.
One of the best practices to help solve the issue of transience, especially in things we want to remember in detail, is to record the event and background as specifically as possible as soon as possible before time begins acting to make our memories vague.
While a certain amount of transience is normal with aging, decay of or damage to the brain’s hippocampus and temporal lobe can cause extreme forms of it.