What is Destination Memory?
Hollywood icon, Bette Davis, is credited with saying “Old age is no place for sissies” and few things seem to illustrate that better than memory issues. With aging comes the weakening of the connections between the neurons in the brain. Forgetfulness, in one form or another, becomes a common complaint. The name of a movie that you just saw is on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t get to it. You walk into a room and find yourself wondering what you are there for.
These experiences become so commonplace and are shared by peers to the point that they are often more apt to initiate jokes than concern. The physiological changes that come with growing older may not be something we would choose, but, in most cases, if we just give it a little time or shift our attention to something else, the information that we were trying to access will come to mind. According to Debra Babcock, M.D., of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “We’re all accessing the same brain networks to remember things, but we have to call in the troops to do the work when we get older, while we only have to call in a few soldiers when we’re younger.”
Age-related memory lapses are not the same as dementia or a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease. They can be frustrating but are generally not cause for undue concern. There is a type of age-related memory change that can cause embarrassment and even create problems with certain types of daily activities. This is the inability to remember to whom you have told something and is called destination memory.
Source memory, which involves remembering from whom have heard something, seems to be less affected by forgetfulness. Destination memory issues, on the other hand, are common. How many of us have been well into telling a story or sharing a piece of information only to suddenly realize that we have already told this exact same thing to this person before? Or worse, not remember and have to be told: “Oh yes, I remember you telling me that.” This can happen so frequently that some simply preface whatever they are going to say with some version of “I may have already told you this” or “If you’ve heard this, please stop me”.
Besides being embarrassing, having trouble with destination memory can have very practical implications. This is true, for example, in a work setting when a supervisor needs to remember what tasks were assigned to specific employees or when someone in sales has to keep promotional details straight for their clients. Destination memory enhances the flow of everyday communication when we are able to remember what we have already told our conversational partners. It can make a difference in relationships, also, like when a parent or grandparent tells a child that a particular item is going to be theirs, and then doesn’t remember which child they promised.
Despite its practical relevance and unlike most other types of memory issue, destination memory has received very little attention from researchers. Definitely, more study needs to be done.