Doorways and Forgetting

Senior caregivers discuss the impact of doorways on forgetfulness

Have you ever found yourself standing in a room wondering why you went there in the first place? You look at the object that you’re holding in your hand and have no idea what you were supposed to do with it. Have you ever had to retrace your steps and get strange stares from people? If so, you’ll be interested to know that researchers from the University of Notre Dame may have identified the reason. It’s not a ‘senior moment’ or even simply having too many things on your mind.

It’s the doorways.

In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Professor Gabriel Radvansky suggests that when we move from room to room, especially if we going there to perform a task, our memory is ‘erased’, so to speak, “because our thought becomes compartmentalized”.

Experiments were conducted among college students that required them to remember which objects had been placed on a table. In the first experiment, they simply moved across the room and then subsequently moved from one room to the next. The distance travelled and the time between actions was the same and yet the subjects were two to three times as likely to forget what they were supposed to do after walking through a doorway.

The doorways functioned as mental blocks or ‘event boundaries’ as Radvansky calls them, which impede our abilities to retrieve memories formed elsewhere. Radvansky theorizes that when we are moving through our world, it is very continuous and dynamic and to deal with it more effectively, we break things up into little chunks. These chunks get overwhelmed when we move into a new environment and add more and more information to working memory.

This may be a contributing factor to a condition called “relocation trauma’. This refers to the disorientation, agitation, acting out and even hallucinations that happen to seniors when they move into a new health-care setting like a retirement residence, hospice or hospital.

There are many new doorways for them to cope with and the disorientation and anxiety created by the heightened feeling of forgetting may exhaust their coping capabilities.

Homecare services for seniors

By contrast, the home setting is familiar and usually much more open than institutions which need many doorways to ensure privacy.

This is yet another reason why care at home is the superior option for seniors and/or the infirm. The nurses and senior caregivers at Qualicare Family Homecare are all alerted to the need for making the home environment safe and comfortable for their clients.


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