Is Forgotten Baby Syndrome a tragic side effect of the busy lives we lead today or is there another reason why these tragedies keep on occurring? Could you ever imagine this happening to you?
Can you imagine accidentally leaving your baby in the back of a car and forgetting about him or her as you go about your day? Only to return later and find the most horrific consequence of your mistake?
We all believe this will absolutely never EVER happen to us. Ever. And we’re all incredulous when we hear of these tragedies and let our judgment echo our horror.
“It will never happen to me.”
In Australia, there have been too many tragedies of young children dying in a car. And in the USA, about 30 children die of heatstroke each year as a result of being forgotten inside a car.
It Only Takes Two Hours…
Two hours is all it takes for a young child to die inside a car. Children can’t regulate their body temperature like adults can, which puts them at significant risk. Even when the outside temperature is just 21C, the temperature inside a car can reach 49C in only 45 minutes.
These tragic incidents keep occurring, so much so, it’s now referred to as “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” whereby an adult caregiver forgets about the presence of a child in a car and as a result puts the child in danger, or worse.
US based neuroscientist Professor David Diamond, has been studying these cases for ten years and suggests there is a pattern. And not one factor is the parent’s negligence – this can happen to anyone. “The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant,” he suggests.
According to Professor Diamond, when the parent is travelling the same well-travelled route, this activates what he calls the ‘habit brain memory system’, which means the brain is effectively on autopilot.
“The important factors involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia – the dominant brain system, is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist.”
In other words, our dominant brain works really hard to ensure we stay on autopilot and the “thinking” part of the brain is too weakened to fight it and alert our brain to a change from the norm. Any unexpected deviation from this routine, such as an earlier departure for work, oversleeping accidently and rushing to catch up, or a road works detour, can create a situation where autopilot ‘kicks in’ and the brain forces actions in keeping with the normal routine.
A series of events can lead to a catastrophic breakdown in the brain’s safety systems.
The brain then fills in gaps, creating ‘false memories’ – where you believe you’ve dropped your child off at daycare. The memory circuit can be ‘rebooted’ such as if the child cries – in other words, you have a ‘close call’.
There is a physiological reason why it happens. It is no fault of the parent. The parent was not careless, nor forgetful nor are they to blame, although this provides cold comfort as it will be a blame they carry for the rest of their lives.
And yes, we lead busy lifestyles and pile too many responsibilities on top of each other. We may be overtired or stressed with work and life, and yes, rear-facing child restraints mean we’re unable to see our little people as easily, and these can all contribute to the cause.
We can use strategies like putting our handbags, briefcases or mobile phones at our babies’ feet, we can put rubber bands around our wrists to remind us, we can use dedicated apps – we’re now so much more aware of the risks because of these tragedies.
As loving, attentive parents, we confidently know that this will never, ever happen to us. Not on our watch. We can stake our life on it.
However the sad and tragic fact is every one of those parents who have left a child behind, who have had that horrific realisation, who have raced back to their cars and who have buried their babies, believed exactly the same thing.
It will never happen to me.