By Gary Geyer
“I must be losing it. I just put my glasses down for a second and now they’re not there.” Sound familiar?
Worried about getting senile?
It’s the over 50 cry for help. Many Boomers get a little crazy when they can’t remember someone’s name or where they put down something a minute ago. If it makers you feel better, some memory loss is a normal part of aging. The good news is that most people over 50 can improve their memory with a little practice and training. (We’ll get to that.)
Changes in memory are normal. Many people over 50 can expect:
• difficulty paying attention to more than one thing at a time
• greater effort to learn something new
• needing more time to remember familiar names and vocabulary
• longer periods of time needed to recall something from their long-term memory
What to do if you are worried that your memory loss is not normal:
• Write down the kinds of things you are forgetting and how often it occurs
• Ask friends or family members if they have noticed any change in your memory
• Think about what things in your life other than getting older might be affecting your memory. Like stress, depression, a recent loss of a job, the death or illness of a person close to you, a new medication, vitamin B12 deficiency, alcohol abuse, dehydration and thyroid problems.
• Discuss all these things with your doctor.
How to improve your memory: Focus your attention!
The single most important thing to do when you really want to remember something is PAY ATTENTION to the things you are doing. “Focus” is the key to avoiding the frustration of not remembering where you parked your car, where you put down your keys and what you went to the refrigerator for.
Strategies to improve memory
Keep in mind that as you age, you may find it more difficult to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. So do your best to cut out distractions. You may find that as you age you need more time to learn new information or recall familiar names or words from long-term memory, so give yourself plenty of time. Take a few more seconds when you want to recall a name or the title of a book or movie. Make a conscious effort to improve your organizational skills. Put your keys, glasses, remotes, bills, whatever, in the same place every time so you’ll know where they are when you need them.
How to recall a famous name when you need to
My favorite tried and true technique is the alphabet game. I go through the letters of the alphabet from A to Z to see if one will serve as a cue to jog my memory. For example, if I’m trying to remember the name of the movie with Marilyn Monroe in which Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dressed as women, I start with all the movies I can think of that start with the letter A. When I get to S, miraculously it comes to me. “Some Like it Hot.”
How to stop worrying about things you do automatically, without even thinking about them
Here’s the trick: Start thinking of them. To avoid worrying about whether you have locked the door, as you are locking the door say to yourself, “I have just locked the door and I no longer have to think about it.” Get in the habit of saying things like, “I have just unplugged the iron and I no longer have to think about it.” “I have just turned the faucet off in the bathtub and I no longer have to think about it.”
Brain exercises to help prevent memory loss
Physical exercise can make and keep your body stronger. Same holds true for mental exercise for your mind.
• Play games that involve strategy, like chess or bridge, and word games like Scrabble.
• Try crossword and other word puzzles, or number puzzles such as Sudoku.
• Read newspapers, magazines, and books that challenge you.
• Get in the habit of learning new things: games, recipes, driving routes, a musical instrument, a foreign language.
• Take a course in an unfamiliar subject that interests you. The more interested and engaged your brain, the more likely you’ll be to continue learning and the greater the benefits you’ll experience.
• Take on a project that involves design and planning, such as a quilt, a vegetable garden, or a workshop in your garage.
Memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging nor is it a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. As you can see from the above techniques, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your gray matter.
Now, don’t forget to remember what I just told you.
Information for this article came from the website Helpguide.org and the Geriatric Clinic at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center. It is reproduced here with their permission.
Gary Geyer is Chief Editor of Let Life In.