I just spent the past week with a woman who has been a dear friend since the early 1970’s. When we first met, I was newly married and still childless. Bell bottoms were high fashion and shag carpet came in burnt orange. We have remained friends for over forty years and although we don’t see each other very often, it’s amazing how we can pick up the conversation as if we had spoken just the day before. Good friends are like that. Our friendship has outlasted a couple of husbands and more than a few boyfriends. One of us (me) moved several times while the other has lived in the same home for 43 years. Life goes on and yet some things never change.
Which brings me to the subject of memories. Isn’t it amazing how you can talk for an hour about something that happened 30 years ago…. but, dammit, you can’t remember where you put your wallet or the name of the person you just met? We talked about that a lot this past week, my friend and I.
Is it Alzheimer’s? How many times has that thought flitted through your mind? If you are like me, more than you care to admit. Well, the good news is that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Most of us won’t get it. Fewer than 1 in 5 people over 65 and less than half of people over 85 have the disease. That’s the good news. The not so great news is that our brains do change over time. Some cognitive abilities actually continue to improve (yea), some stay constant and some unfortunately decline. Both episodic (when you forget your doctor’s appointment or what you went into the kitchen to get) and long term memory decline as we age. Information processing, learning new things and doing more than one task at a time also become more difficult with age.
The American Psychological Association suggests some ways to keep your brain functioning a little better, at every age.
Be Social – Hanging out with your friends and joining community activities improves mood and memory function. Girls’ night is good for your brain.
Get Moving – Exercise, including brisk walking and dancing, help boost and maintain brain function. Get that blood pumping!
Brain Training – There are websites you can join such as Luminosity or try simple mnemonic strategies to improve learning and memory. You might remember this one from 5th grade geography. The names of the Great Lakes are: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario. You can remember the order from west to east with the following: Super Man Helps Every One.
Check Your Hearing – If you can’t see it or hear it, you probably aren’t going to learn it or remember it. Just sayin’.
Pay Attention – Try to avoid some of the distractions that divert your attention such as loud noises, TV in the background, talking and not watching where you are going. Focus on one thing at a time and then move on the to next. I learned that lesson the time I could not find my car in the parking lot at the airport. It was raining. It was midnight. I was not happy. Since that night, whenever I park, I always stop, make a mental note of my location and then write it down on the parking ticket. I can’t tell you how many times that extra couple of minutes has saved me and my sanity.
Use Memory Aids – Keep to do lists. Establish routines. Keep everything in it’s place – have a place for things like keys, glasses and cell phones and put them there – every time. Use the calendar on your phone or computer – they will remind you of important appointments.
Don’t Buy into ageist stereotypes about memory decline. Studies have shown that having positive beliefs about aging can improve memory performance in older adults.
My first memory lapse is still vivid in my mind. I was a single mom in my late 30’s, driving home from work, kids in the back, thinking about dinner, homework, the long, long, long To Do List and when I stopped at a red light a few blocks from my house, I could not decide if I should turn left or right. I literally could not remember how to get home! So, now when my memory fails me, I remind myself that it’s probably not Alzheimer’s, it just my brain on overload. The brain can only take so much and it needs a break. It’s my signal that it’s time to make a cup of tea, ease into my comfy chair and close out the world for a few minutes.
And, to my dear friend Betty… Thanks for the memories! The ones we’ve made over forty years and all of the fabulous new ones we made this past week.
Enjoying the oyster sampler at Southpark.