A door is a metaphor for so many aspects of life. Doors that open to opportunity, hope, an invitation, new beginnings, other worlds. There are doors to the outside, doors to the inside, doors into even more enclosed spaces. There’s that lovely quote from The Sound of Music: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” And let’s not forget Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. We move physically and figuratively from one place to another through door after door after door.
Have you ever had the experience of walking through a door and forgetting why you’ve done so? That happens to me all the time. I walk through a door and forget why I’ve entered another room, or what I was supposed to retrieve. I stand still, trying to remember. Then I walk back to my original location and begin again. “What was it I was looking for?” I ask myself. “What did I need to do in that room?”
What if it were the doors themselves that made us forget?
As reported recently in Alzheimer’s Weekly, an online magazine dedicated to all things Alzheimer’s, the act of walking through a doorway may cause us to forget. In a 2011 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists at the University of Notre Dame, under lead psychiatrist Dr. Gabriel Radvansky,* showed how passing through doors inhibited remembering a list of items. In what they called location-updating effect, students were given a series of different colored objects to remember, and then asked to either cross a room or pass through a doorway into another room. Even though the participants traveled the exact same distances, they showed a decline in memory when they went through a doorway. The experiment was carried out virtually and in an actual space with doors.
In an article citing the influence this theory may have on architectural design, Christopher Henry explains it this way: “We construct mental narratives to organize and retain information. When we cross through an event boundary we parse one event into two. Next, we foreground the most current event. If we then try to retrieve information that was carried over the event horizon, the two events compete and interfere with each other. This is known as the location-updating effect. Conversely, when there is only one event, such as a single open room, associated with a particular goal, idea, and/or information, it is much easier to remember; there is no need to update the location in this situation.”**
If this happens to all us normal people, imagine the effect on someone with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s patients wander frequently from one room to another trying to remember what it is they were meant to remember. They look for lost objects in the most unlikely of places, opening boxes, bags, closets, the fridge, all in an attempt to find something they can’t express. They inexplicably believe their home is not their home and insist on packing belongs to go "home." When they travel, they become dislocated from their new surrounding; when they return, their home is suspect. Walking through a door may literally be like entering another world.
There’s not much we can do to protect Mom from this phenomenon. There are nine doors in her apartment, not to mention the cupboards, cabinets, and closets in the various rooms. The open-planned living room/dining room/kitchen does provide some relief from moving from space to space. But the minute we step outside, we enter a new world full of doors.
It reminds me of a book I used to read my kids: Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. Each successive room Grover enters is completely different from the last, and highlights a small selection of objects. He visits the “Hall of Very, Very Light Things,” “The Tall Hall,” “The Carrot Room,” and other funny rooms. Finally, towards the end, Grover says, “You know, I have seen many things in this museum, but I still have not seen Everything in the Whole Wide World. Where did they put everything else?” “Aha,” he excitedly exclaims when he finds the door marked “Everything Else.”
As Grover walks out into the world, he carries with him a sense of wonderment. If only we could get past the frustrations and find the door to that emotion.
Quinoa Tabouli Salad
When my sister-in-law Rise shared a large bunch of parsley with me that was more than she could use, I knew it was time to make tabouli. Tabouli comes in many variations. This particular recipe is similar to one that is served in wedding halls in Israel. Don’t skimp on the parsley. It makes this salad.
1 cup cooked quinoa
(or ½ cup raw quinoa cooked in 1 cup water)
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cucumbers diced
½ onion diced
½ cup craisins
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp date honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop parsley, onions and cucumbers as fine as you can. Combine with cooked quinoa in a large bowl. Whisk dressing ingredients. Pour over tabouli and stir together.
*Radvansky, Gabriel, Human Memory 2nd Edition, Taylor & Frances Group, 2010; and Radvansky, Gabriel, Cognition 6th Edition, Pearson Education 2013
**Christopher N. Henry. "Can design influence memory?" 16 Nov 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 9 Aug 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/184725/can-design-influence-memory/>