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Down Memory Lame

September 13, 2013

My Unforgettable Memory Lapse

By Gwen Gibson

I always knew my mental agility would decline as I grew older.  But I had one mental lapse that defies all reason. For some four years—if my memory serves me right—I kept forgetting to cancel my subscription to papers on how to cure memory disorders that I had ordered from Johns Hopkins Medicine. As a result, these accumulated in a corner of my office where they rested, unread, with two books I had purchased on how to develop a “memorable memory.”

I ordered this material, initially, because I was having some typical memory lapses like losing my car keys and glasses, putting mayonnaise on my cereal, and forgetting what I went upstairs for.  But once the material arrived I didn’t want to read it. I thought it would depress me by emphasizing (one) that I’m in my dotage, (two) that I am losing brain cells and (three) that there’s no cure for items one and two until science discovers an elixir that works like Viagra on the brain.

Recently, however, overcome by guilt and curiosity, I decided to read through this trove of valuable information. And, mirabile dictu, I discovered the outlook is not as grim as I feared.  The neuroscientists and physicians quoted throughout this four-year collection agreed on one principal: i.e., that while our brain does shrink as we age, we continue to create new neurons and reboot neural connections as long as we live.

But we need to regenerate these neural trails. To do so, the experts agreed, we must follow six basic rules: (1) Eat a well-balanced diet (2) drink moderately, if at all (3) exercise daily (4) be a lifetime learner (5) get sufficient sleep (6) remain socially active.

Having learned these basic facts, why did I continue reading my all memory material? Because I kept finding so many interesting, funny, contradictory and helpful hints on how to accomplish those six steps.

Take rule one on eating healthfully. Both the bulletins and books had mouth-watering suggestions–some of them blatantly commercial–on the best foods to eat.  Honorable mention, but no scientific proof, went to blueberry pie, strawberry yogurt,  turmeric, mustard, salmon and other fatty fish, dark chocolate, walnuts, soybeans, myriad vitamins, and even coffee. One writer recommended five cups of coffee a day as protection against cognitive impairment. Two servings daily of fresh veggies was considered a given.

The opinions regarding rule two were more to my liking. Many experts seemed reluctant to recommend a total ban on alcohol while suggesting that mild drinking could be beneficial. “Women who regularly drink wine may have a reduced risk of developing dementia compared with those who abstain,” one article from Johns Hopkins Medicine stated.  I recite this to myself every time I open a new bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

Support for 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise was unanimous, with the writers offering different tips on how best to achieve this. They included: walk the dog three times instead of twice daily; take stairs instead of elevators; do water aerobics (a good way to keep your head above water); when driving, park blocks from your destination and walk the remaining distance; exercise outdoors because it’s “more fun;” and when walking in parks or busy areas “always live in the moment.”

Lifetime learning was unanimously endorsed as a means of improving our memories, I.Q. and quality of life. But we must challenge the brain, the authors insist, by tackling new and demanding studies and hobbies.  We could, for instance, learn a new language or two, take up the French horn, write a book, study the classics, or teach yoga to pit bulls. If we persist in such endeavors, these writers say, our minds will rise to occasion.

The advice given on getting a good night’s sleep was contradictory. One bulletin from Johns Hopkins Medicine said “meditation, prayer or a good book” can help us to relax and fall asleep.  A later bulletin, same source, advised against reading a book in bed. The most interesting suggestion I read on this topic was: “At night, keep the bedroom dark and quiet and use it only for sleep and sex.”

The Johns Hopkins papers never wavered in their support of strong social networks for seniors.  A white paper on memory that I received in 2009 said: “Having a large social network may preserve cognitive function and stave off dementia among elderly women.” A bulletin from the same source that I received in Spring, 2013, went further. “Numerous studies have reported that people who regularly socialize with others have less the mortality rates than people who have isolated lives.”  (So, party on!)

These bulletins and books also contained countless tips on where to find brain management classes, videos on managing your memory and brain games that serve like a GPS for the hippocampus, the main driver of memory.

But frankly I believe if we simply follow the six rules listed above, at our own pace, our memories will serve us well until we step onto that sheer cliff of senectitude.

I plan, meanwhile, to continue my subscriptions to the Johns Hopkins Medicine bulletins, as long as they don’t become too repetitive. As for the authors of these works, I have but four words: Thanks for the memories. –gg-

From → humor

  1. Al Spivak permalink

    Gwen, your blog about memory and memories was unforgettable!

    Al S.

  2. Jo M permalink

    Well, I already do a number of these things, but I still lose my keys and glasses. Perhaps I will try teaching yoga to pit bulls or to a couple golden retrievers that I know and love.

  3. I Loved your blog about memory, etc. I too am reaching a point where I spend too much time worrying about aging now 73. Even our precious Griffon is losing his eyesight. Staying active like water aerobics has been good but I’d rather paint and spend time with friends. Do we stay disciplined or spend more time having fun? A revelation ? thanks Gwen
    Mimi Cox

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