Washington area residents rarely forget power lunches, important telephone numbers or the location of their parked car at White Flint. But ask them to recall the name of a person they just met at a cocktail party, and they are likely to draw a blank.
These are among the results of a new public opinion poll on memory, conducted by Washington Post pollster Barry Sussman and his assistant Kenneth John. The survey polled a random sampling of 400 men and women ages 18 and older by telephone.
A similar survey, printed in the Feb. 19 Health section, was completed and returned to The Post by more than 1,100 readers. Their responses were analyzed by Memory Assessment Clinic of Bethesda, and showed results similar to the telephone survey.
In general, most people in the metropolitan area believe they have good memories, the polls suggest. Besides recalling appointments and the location of parked cars, Washingtonians said they are adept at remembering to turn out lights, knowing which waiter has taken their order in a restaurant and remembering where they put their house keys.
The polls also suggest that older people, age 55 and above, report no more memory problems than those a generation younger. Similarly, it found little difference in the memories of men and women. Both sexes are just as likely to forget the name of a person introduced at a party. Education also seems to bear little relationship to better memory. People with a high school education or less report having just as good a memory as college graduates.
Perhaps as a reflection of the well-cultivated ability of area residents to juggle busy schedules, the majority of those polled said they are excellent at remembering important appointments and significant events. Eighty-five percent report only rarely forgetting an important scheduled date, and more than half of all respondents forget "very rarely."
The secret of a good memory may be in writing reminders. Three out of four of those polled said they used notes or other written aides at least occasionally, while almost half reported using them often or very often. One Arlington woman wrote that keeping notes has "been a useful strategy, but I have always felt that I should be able to do without such a crutch. I am relieved to learn that this is not an uncommon problem."
But notes won't help much with a very common memory problem: recalling the name of someone just introduced. Only 32 percent of those polled felt that they were "good" or "very good" at keeping track of names. The majority felt that they were average or below.
One man described how 13 years ago he and his wife were invited to a business luncheon. "I had only worked for my boss for two weeks and was introducing him to my wife," the man writes, "but couldn't remember his name!! Total embarrassment for everyone! I've improved since."
Another woman wrote: "I have learned that my memory is good when I concentrate. I think that is probably universally true, but even with out effort I remember where I parked my car, my coat or my keys as well as the meanings of words."
A GS-14 federal employee reported that she overcomes a poor memory this way: "Because I have a bad memory, I always put my keys in the same place. I also always make a list. I always start a story with, 'Did I tell you . . . ?' so I don't repeat myself. I put all my appointments on my calendar. I make a list days before taking a trip."
Among the other survey findings:
*Remembering such important but mundane activities as turning out lights, locking doors or turning off appliances when leaving home is rarely a problem for people of any age living in the metropolitan area. About nine out of 10 people who responded said that they were at least "good" at remembering to do those things, while two out of three people reported being "very good."
*More than two thirds of the respondents rated their ability to know where to find their keys as "good," while 39 percent said that they were "very good" at finding their keys.
*Two out of three people polled said that they were at least "good" at remembering where they parked their cars in large, congested parking lots.
*More than two thirds of people surveyed easily remember telephone numbers they call at least once a week.
*Few men and women of any age go to the store and forget what they came to buy. Nor are they likely to forget to take items when traveling.
*Remembering specific facts from newspaper and magazine articles read the week before was fairly difficult for most people. So was recalling the names of teachers and classmates from early school years. Older people seemed more likely than young people to report storing something in a safe place and then forgetting where they put it. Sixty percent of those 55 and older did that at least occasionally, compared with 55 percent of people 34 to 54 years of age and 50 percent of those 18 to 34 years old.More Information
The Memory Assessment Clinic of Bethesda is still offering free memory testing and, in particular, seeks healthy men and women 50 and older. The Clinic may be reached at 657-0030 or by writing to 8311 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20814.