Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forget about it!

All my working life, I've dealt with words, whether writing them down, interacting with colleagues and clients, or giving presentations. I revel in the richness of the English language and enjoy exercising and expanding my vocabulary. So it's particularly frustrating when more and more, I can't come out with a word, whether it's a person's name or place or phrase, that's on the tip of my tongue. My friends and I joke about how we're losing our memories along with our teeth and hair, but it's something I really dread.

Forgetfulness is a common complaint among us older adults. In addition to blanking out on people's names, I've also stood in different parts of the house, wondering what I went there for. It takes me longer to learn and recall information when I used to pride myself on how quick on the uptake I was.

Alzheimer's is a real concern, and I know people who've been affected by it to realize its devastating effects. After reading about memory loss among seniors, I now know that age-related memory changes are not the same as dementia. It may take me longer to recall information, but this slowing of my mental processes is natural. I'm comforted that many of my mental abilities are largely unaffected by aging. I can still do the things I've always done and continue to do often. I've retained the wisdom and knowledge I've acquired from my experiences. I can still form reasonable judgements and rely on my common sense.

Many types of my memory lapses that I jokingly refer to as the early onset of Alzhemer's are considered normal for people my age. Occasionally forgetting where I left things I use regularly like my glasses. Having trouble remembering what I just read, or the details of the conversation. Becoming easily distracted. As well as being unable to retrieve information I have "on the tip of my tongue".

Looking through the wealth of information on the subject, I can say fairly certainly that my memory lapses are age-related rather than something more serious.

Compensating for memory loss
I've read that the same practices that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to a healthy memory, so it doesn't take anything special to keep our brains in good shape.

• Stay social.
I need to keep socially engaged with family and friends, because quality face-to-face social interaction is powerful medicine for the brain. Some friends and I try to meet up for a mahjong session and a meal as often as we can manage it. That's really killing two birds with one stone - games that involves strategy like mahjong, sudoku or Scrabble exercise the brain.

• Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise boosts brain growth and encourages the development of new brain cells (yes, we do grow new brain cells!). I know that exercise helps me to manage stress as well. When we're stressed, we're more likely to suffer memory lapses and have trouble learning or concentrating. In addition to alleviating anxiety and depression, physical activity leads to a healthier brain.

• Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep deprivation reduces the growth of new neurons, and causes problems with memory, concentration and decision-making. It can even lead to depression - another memory killer. So I try to wind down as early as I can. I know that the best hours of sleep are meant to be between 11pm and 1am, so if I can, I turn off the TV and phone and turn in for the night. Some people listen to soothing music or white noise to doze off. Reading works for me.

• Eat healthily.
Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuns, walnuts) are particularly good for the brain and memory. Plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as green tea also provide antioxidants to keep brain cells from "rusting". I try to maintain a healthy calorie intake as well and go easy on the carbs.

Brain exercise to fight memory loss
It's really a matter of "use it or lose it". Just as physical exercise can keep our bodies stronger, mental exercise can make our brains work better too. Find a brain exercise you enjoy. The more pleasurable the activity is to you, the more powerful its effect will be on your brain.

• Play games involving strategy.
Chess, bridge, crossword puzzles and number puzzles are all good. I do enjoy games, whether they are puzzles I tackle on my phone or games like mahjong played with friends.

• Read.
I'm a sucker for the written word. I read newspaper and magazine articles as well as devour books - anything that challenges me to think.

• Learn something new.
It can be a game, recipe, hobby, musical instrument or foreign language. Anything. At my age, I no longer fear making a fool of myself or worry about what other people think. After many years of playing and then giving up the piano, I went for cello lessons which was a lark. I didn't get very far, mainly because my fingers couldn't keep up with my brain!

• Do something unfamiliar.
Find something that interests you, because the more engaged your brain is, the more likely you'll continue to learn and exercise you brain. I love to travel to new, unfamiliar places, although I have to write everything down either in my phone or tablet, from currency exchanges and restaurant reviews to directions and names of hotels. Otherwise I'll forget!

New research indicates that walking at least 10-15 kilometers every week can prevent brain shrinkage and memory loss. According to the American Academy of Neurology, older adults who walked between 10-15 kilometers per week had more gray matter in their brains nine years after the start of the study than people who didn't walk as much. Fortunately I love to walk, whether at the gym, in the parks around me or in foreign lands. So now, to worrying about memory loss, I'll say "Forget about it!"

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