I had my memory tested today when I had a call from a man from the town I grew up in. He introduced himself as Howard Johnson which didn’t ring a bell and then he threw out a few more names that didn’t ring a bell. Then he mentioned that he used to be the cow foreman on a ranch that I worked at when I was in high school, 40 years ago.

It all started coming back to me. He was my boss when I was 16 and he was 28. The other two guys were college students from California who worked there for the summer. What a blast from the past that was.

Every time a person with any health history to speak of applies for life insurance they go through a memory test and most of us just hit the highlights and round off our answers and call it good. The problem is that the insurance company verifies our version of life with the actual medical records. There are two inherent problems that can come out of this system. Either we have forgotten details that turn out to be important, or the doctor has entered bad information in our records and because of the time that has passed there is no real way to correct it. Doctors can’t change records after the fact and they have a real hang up about putting an entry in your records saying they made an error.

The issue of memory has proven especially challenging when dealing with bipolar disorder life insurance. I am in no way inferring that those with bipolar disorder have selective memory or poor memories when it comes to the details of their mental health. It is just a fact that in diagnosing and treating the disorder there are times that are stressful and the patients aren’t necessarily focused on the details of all the questions or topics being discussed.

One of the questions that always has to be dealt with is that of suicidal thoughts, ideations or attempts. If a person has been diagnosed with bipolar there is no question that there is at least a documented discussion in their records concerning the subject. While that person may have actually never considered or even thought about suicide, how the psychiatrist characterizes that discussion in the records will be what the insurance company bases their underwriting on.

The same goes for bipolar episodes, both manic and depressive. You know they come and go and you may remember the more significant events if there were any, but your records are updated often enough that it might paint a different picture than what you remember. From an underwriter’s standpoint this might change their decision if it appears that maybe your stability isn’t quite as good as was characterized on the trial quote request.

So, I’m not saying don’t apply if you can’t remember every detail of every day, but whether it’s bipolar disorder and a questions about suicidal thoughts or heart disease and a question about your last stress test, it may be worthy of some thought before answering or even checking your medical records, something that I advocate doing at least every few years.

Bottom line. The combination of our tendency to remember the big things and throw out the smaller stuff combined with doctor’s propensity to make errors in records needs to be considered if you have history of any consequence.