Memory – or lack thereof

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot what you needed? Have you forgotten someone’s name, or can’t remember an address or phone number? Forgotten where you put your keys? Are you wearing your glasses on your head while you frantically search the house for your glasses? If any of these have happened to you, chances are, there is nothing wrong with you! As we age, it is perfectly normal to experience these from time to time. If you notice it is happening more often than you would like, a trip to the doctor would not be a bad idea, just to rule out any potential real medical problem. As long as brain imaging indicates a normal age-related shape, meaning no neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury or stroke (to name a few issues), then your problem is most likely just CRS (Can’t Remember Shit).

  Now that we narrowed down your problem to being CRS, we need to ask the question, what can you do about it? The first thing to do is learn how memory works. In the most basic terms, if you want to be able to retrieve information, it has to be properly stored in your brain. In order for it to be properly stored in your brain, it has to be encoded in a way to tether it down long enough to be of use when you need it. How do you work on tethering new information strong enough that it can be properly stored? You need to increase your attention skills!

Memory begins with first attending to information. If you have poor attention and concentration skills, your memory will be poor. How to do improve your attention skills? With effort and purpose. Every single person I talk to about this tells me “I can’t remember like I used to”, or “I used to hear a name and it would just stick without even trying!”. Think about it for a minute. When you compare yourself to the good ole days, you are setting yourself up for failure with the here and now.  Most of us attended school from Kindergarten to 12th grade and some of us went even beyond. That means you spent a minimum of 13 years in structured learning environments. Sitting in classrooms, listening, taking notes, reading, writing, figuring, immersing in conversation, memorizing and test taking. That was 13 years of purposeful brain stimulation and exercise. Then we graduate from school and start working. We continue with brain stimulation exercises with work, routines, structure and constant multitasking. Then, we continue to age and enter retirement. No more structure. Less routine. Less socialization. Very little brain stimulation or conditioning happening. Then, we say “I can’t remember like I used to” and act surprised by that! If Mary Lou Retton walked out onto the gymnasium floor today, do you think she could perform with the same Gold medal level of skill? Most likely not (but who am I to judge?).

We assume our brain should be working at the same capacity as it was years ago, without doing any kind of exercise. So, the first thing we need to do, is stop comparing the you of yesterday with the you of today. Be realistic with your current abilities and attention spans. I bet about now you are wondering what are some examples of brain exercises? I will list my favorite top 10 brain exercises here:

  1. Reading! But, take it a step further. Read for 5 minutes, then close the book and write down the key points. For example, were there any names? Dates? Addresses? What season was it? The year?
  2. Writing. Spend at least 15 min twice a day writing a story, try poetry, journal, write out your goals, plan the next 24 hrs of your day
  3. Crossword puzzles. There are multiple complexities of crossword puzzles. You can find them in paperback form for 99 cents or less. Or you can do what most people do and play them on your tablet for free.
  4. Word search puzzles. Just like crossword puzzles, there are multiple complexities. These can be as easy or difficult as you want them to be.
  5. Hidden Object Puzzles. I LOVE these! These are not language strengthening exercises, but they certainly work on attention to detail. I found several different games that I play on my Kindle for free. You can even increase the complexity by setting time limits. If you’re not familiar with this type of game, it works like this – you are given a list of words (items) you have to find in a room that looks like it’s in a hoarder house.
  6. Spot the Difference. These also come in variety of complex levels. This is where you look at two pictures side by side and try to find all the differences. This is another one of my favorites.
  7. Math. Good old math. Find some math workbooks and get back to the basics.
  8. Playing cards. Card games are not only good for plain old fun, but they require use of multiple cognitive functions, especially if you need to use math.
  9. Art. Tap into your creative side. Coloring, drawing, painting, sculpting and whatever else artists do.
  10.  Music. Learn a new instrument. Pick up what you used to play and try to re-learn it. You’re never too old.

The gist of the story is, our brain changes as we age. If you want it to function close to how it “used to”, we need to take active measures to try to get it there.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you’re thinking! Thanks!

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