Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Losing Your Memory Does Not Mean Losing Your Mind

Memory loss as we age can be very frightening, especially when we forget where we put our car keys, or miss an appointment, or are unable to remember an address or telephone number. Most of these mind glitches are a normal, but a very distressing, part of growing older. Memory loss is sometimes a symptom of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but most often it is the result of living long years and storing massive amounts of information in our memory banks.

Our brain has a huge library of past actions and experiences. As we age, this immense library overflows with both important memories (like your friends’ telephone numbers or the address of your doctor) as well as unimportant memories (like the lyrics to a 1950’s song or your worst enemies’ birth date).

There is a lot of good news about tackling this troublesome situation; there are techniques you can use right now which will help to clean house in your brain’s over-burdened library. Begin today to commit yourself to the intention of paying attention to what you do and especially to what you want to remember. For the important things you want to remember, the following suggestions will help:

• Keep lists
• Follow a routine.
• Make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places.
• Keep a detailed calendar.
• Always put important items, such as your car and house keys, in the same place every time.
• Repeat names when you meet new people.
• Run through the ABC’s in your head to help you think of words you’re having trouble remembering. Often, “hearing” the first letter of a word may jog your memory.

However, there is even better news about memory. Until recently, scientists believed that as we age our brains begin to lose brain cells, a few at a time. They also thought that the brain was the one body organ which could not regenerate new cells, new connections, and new memory space, so there was nothing we could do to regenerate new brain tissue the way we can regain regain muscle strength through exercise.

Recently, many scientific experiments have proven that the old “use it or lose it” concept works in the brain just as it does in the rest of our body. Through exercise, both physical and mental, we can grow new nerve cells, and cause older nerve cells to form dense, interconnecting webs that make our old brains run faster and more efficiently. There are also powerful clues that both increased physical and mental activity can stave off the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit disease, and other cognitive disorders.

No matter what our age, we will be able to build a strong, active body along with a dynamic, inquiring mind by continuing to exercise body and mind. We definitely can continue to feel young and think young well into our 70s, 80s, and 90s. We all need to get off that couch and walk, exercise, remember, and learn, to live more vitally every day!

1 comment:

Todd Peterson said...

Great essay, Richard! Memory loss is such a growing concern of elders (and "boomers") I speak with in my legacy talks and classes.

Did you see Donna Peterson's (no relation) excellent article on "memory" in last week's Springfield Beacon? Worth a read.

Our "new" community newspaper has been publishing selected blog writings of mine the last Thursday of each month in "Adult News". I'm sure their editor would be interested in your essays on aging (if you'd like to have them published locally). I'd like to see them "in print" for more people to read!