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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Memory and Aging: What Can We Do About It?

     The other day I had a difficult time remembering where I had put my car key.   After finding it, I mentioned to a friend how stressful the search had become before I finally found the key.  She replied that it would have been more of a problem if I had for forgotten what the key was for. We both laughed.
     Research indicates that all forms of memory performance are subject to the effects of aging. Investigators have also found that older persons have stereotyped views memory and aging more often than other age groups.  For instance, a number of times I have heard someone exclaim “ I just had a senior’s moment.”
     Forgetting where and when I put my key is an example of episodic memory, which is very susceptible to aging decline.  Apparently we may begin to lose episodic memories in early adulthood. The process is slow but continuous.
     Sometimes I have to ask my wife for help when I am manipulating systems on my laptop computer.  For me this may be a problem because I still consider myself a novice when it comes to computers and I don’t pay enough attention to detail.
     Another thing I and many other people find difficult is remembering people’s names; although we very seldom forget faces.  For instance I can be watching a movie on TV that was made in the 60’s and recognize all the major faces but I have to ask my wife what their names are. I usually ask for the person’s initials and then go through the alphabet seeking the name.  Sometimes it works and then I try to develop a technique for remembering that particular person’s name. Interestingly my memory for what words mean is not a problem. This appears to be true for most seniors.
     I do sometimes a have memory problem, referred to as tip-of-the-tongue phenomena. What a feeling it is!  The word is there like a baby peering out from beneath a blanket. Every time you look the baby ducks behind the cover.
     I find the best strategy in this situation is to stop trying to remember. Within a minute of two, sometimes more quickly if I really have let go, the name pops up within 30 seconds. 
     Another problem for me is something called “false memory.” Apparently seniors have this experience more frequently than younger people.  As an example, I recently ordered a book, over the Internet.  That was three of four weeks ago.  I was sure that I had ordered two different books.  When the first book arrived last week there were two copies of the same book. I returned one of them and patiently waited for the next book to arrive.  A couple of days later, I stopped at the bookstore and asked if they could trace the book. They looked and looked and found nothing.  So, I’ve come to accept that I didn’t order the book.  It turns out just as well as I have gone through my bookshelves and found a couple of books on the same topic that will do just fine. {Alert  Jan 5th: I just got the book, the memory failure was that I forgot that I ordered the second hand book from a company in the States so it wasn't false memory is was a partial memory failure,  Whew}
     A most frightening process related to aging and memory is Dementia.  But I’m not ready to discuss that yet.  So I’ll present some ways that we can use to strengthen our memories

Now What Can We Do About It
     It has been suggested that we use “brainteasers” like crossword puzzles to help keep our brains active. Three months ago I purchased a book called “Giant Book of Word Seeks”.  It has 562 pages with a different game on easy page.  I’m now on page 220. Each page takes at least a 45 minutes and longer if I’m watching TV while looking for words.  I like this kind of word search game a lot more entertaining than doing crosswords. It requires recognition not recall.
     The next suggestion is that we should have a healthy diet with omega-3 fats and whole grains antioxidants. I have now developed a lunch habit of tuna fish sandwiches with full grain bread toast. I love it.  I have also developed a taste for dry roasted almonds.
     I have not been so good at the next suggestion; old habits die hard. The suggestion is to have five small meals throughout the day. It is suggested that this prevents dips in blood glucose, which is the primary energy source for the brain.  My food life is not quite so organized.
     Next we are encouraged to keep lists.  I don’t do this routinely yet. (Develop routines is the next suggestion!) Mostly make a list before I go grocery shopping. I also do it when I have a list of places to go and people to see.
     We are encouraged to make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places. I use this idea to find my car in a big parking lot. First I look at where the car is related to the building and I have placed five light green tennis balls on the dashboard of our car. They are hard to miss.
        We are also encouraged to keep a detailed calendar. I have done this for years—when I’m teaching, where I’m teaching, what I’m teaching. Course outlines are wonderful
     Put important items, such as your keys, in the same place every time. I’m getting better at this. For instance wherever in the house I take my hearing aids out, I always go to the place where I keep their pouch. And I keep it in the same place.
     Repeat names when you meet new people. This is something I have noticed being used by many sales people. My problem here is remembering to do it.  “Hi Bob. How are you Bob? Bob, where is the closest department store?
     Do things that keep your mind and body busy.  Teaching and working on this blog are intellectually stimulating.  For the body, I like to walk and also during good weather, I ride my bike to the University, which takes about a half hour.

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