Two elderly ladies were sitting together on a park bench. One of them said to the other, “We’ve been meeting here every nice day for 17 years and you won’t believe me when I tell you I’ve forgotten your name! Don’t laugh; just tell me.” The other old lady thought for a minute, turned to her friend, and asked, “How soon do you want to know?”
That’s a joke, but it’s no joke when you think you are “losing it” as so many of us post-middle agers do.
There are ways to improve our memories, but how many people practise them? The saying “use it or lose it” applies to the mind as well as other body parts. Some forget faces, some names, and others numbers: phone numbers and addresses, birthdays and anniversaries. And instead of working on improving memory, we worry when we don’t have immediate recall.
When we were young and forgot something we’d laugh about it and know that we’d remember soon but now that we have reached the age of questioning ourselves about everything our immediate reaction is, “Oh my goodness, am I heading for Alzheimer’s?”
Self-help is on the way.
An 89-year-old friend completes the New York Times crossword every day to make sure she still has her marbles. Another older friend goes to sleep each night decoding letters in a cryptogram book.
There are all sorts of little tricks to help you remember things. For instance, do you lose your car in the mall parking lot? Tie a coloured ribbon on your car’s antenna. Friends of mine parked their car in a huge shopping mall parking lot in Portland, Oregon, and after they wandered up one aisle and down the other for an hour they gave up, took a taxi back to their hotel and waited until closing time. When they went back, voila, their vehicle was exactly where they had left it.
Word association is wonderful, if it works. June is like moon; Jessie like messy, etc. So, June can moon and Jessie is messy. It usually works. And another trick if you don’t know a person well is to say, “I remember your last name but I’ll be darned if I can remember your first name.” Invariably they will tell you. (You haven’t remembered their last name either, but nobody knows except you, and you’re not going to tell!)
I find that breaking up phone numbers into small sections works for me. For example, if the number 672-4404 has a prefix of 604 or 250, forget it, because you know where your friend lives in B.C. and whether it will be in the 604 or 250 category. Concentrate on the 627-4404; I would break it down into 62 74 and 404.
Another old friend uses an old kid’s memory game to sharpen her wit: put items on a tray, hide the tray and then write down as many of the items that you can remember. When my friend could recall the entire four or five items, she upped the ante and added more items. She swears her memory really has improved since doing this exercise.
And before I forget, write things down. Executives have secretaries to remind them of dates and meetings. We should use a little black book to keep track of our “things to do” list - and refer to it daily!
A recent Finnish study showed the more fatty fish in a senior’s diet, the longer their memories remained sharp. And carbohydrates too. The study was called Fatty Fish, Carbs and Confidence.
So, don’t fret if you forget things occasionally, you are very likely good for many more happy years of recall. It’s human to forget and divine to remember, and you do remember most of the time!
OCTOBER 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND