We all have senior moments, don’t we? Or do we?
We all have moments when we are not as sharp as we need to be. Or times when we have trouble remembering an actor’s name or a detail from a recent event.
And some seniors may notice these times more often than others.
But are such memory lapses related to being a senior? Are we more prone to a declining memory as we age?
I just turned 69, and my memory is no worse than it has ever been. To which my wife says, “That is not saying much.”
Dr. Becca Levy, in her ground-breaking book, Breaking The Age Code, offers a clear answer to this question. According to Dr. Levy, some types of memory improve, such as the recall of general knowledge, and some stay the same, such as remembering how to ride a bike.
It is true that our ability to remember specific events that occurred at a particular time and place can decline as we age. This is called episodic memory. This decline usually happens very slowly.
Dr. Levy argues that memory lapses can occur at any age and that our brains are still forming new connections even in later life.
More importantly, she provides evidence that our memories can improve by challenging some beliefs and biases we may hold about ageing itself. In a related post on Sixty and Me, I wrote about how changing our beliefs about ageing may help us live longer and better.
Here are a few ideas that can help improve your memory and general cognitive functioning.
Sometimes our worries will take us to the worst place. And sometimes our worries are based on faulty assumptions about what is going on at the time.
One faulty assumption is that we are all headed downhill, physically and mentally, as we get older. Well there may be a grain of truth to this assumption, it is the details that really matter.
For many of us that take care of ourselves, any downhill slope may be very gradual. Some types of memory may decline – very slowly. Overtime, we will also experience ups and down, as well as good days, bad days and times of surprising improvement.
There are many causes of memory lapses, other than aging. These can include poor sleep, stresses and distractions, multitasking, fatigue, pain or some medications. This is a big topic, which I will come back to in my next post.
The main point here is that we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that age is the reason for any memory problems we encounter. There are many simpler reasons that can be addressed and improved upon.
I remember one of my patients from years ago who was complaining about his poor memory. He was only in his mid 40s, so I thought it was unlikely that he would have dementia, although he was worried about that possibility.
He told me that he was having trouble concentrating and remembering things that he had read. He had an Irish background and was an avid football (soccer) fan. It turned out that he did have trouble remembering general items that he read from the newspaper.
But this was not true when it came to any stories or scores about football teams. When he was reading about football his memory was very good.
Sometimes when we try to remember things it is important to realize that not all things are worth remembering or learning about.
Another type of age-related bias is that our capacity to make decisions deteriorates with age. Yet, this capability can be improved as well.
Here is a strategy that I have always liked.
Let’s say that we are trying to decide which pair of shoes we want to buy. For example, there may be four choices we are considering.
What I like to do is to narrow it down to two choices at a time. This strategy is called paired comparisons. First, you take two choices and decide which one is best. Then you take the winner from that first pair of choices and compare it to option number three. Then you take the winner from that choice and compare it to option number four.
You can use this paired comparisons strategy for any number of decisions you have to make. You can also use it for any type of decision. You might even want to use it when you are trying to decide which man from your dating app you want to take a risk on.
There are many ways we can learn to improve our memory and cognitive functioning. Getting older does not mean that we are doomed to becoming less able.
Henry Kissinger, a former United States Secretary of State, recently turned 100. He is still advising world leaders and has just written a new book on artificial intelligence. He may be an extreme example, but we can all take at least a little inspiration from his mental capabilities.
Are you underestimating yourself and your capabilities as you get older? Are you second-guessing your own abilities to improve and grow, no matter what your age? Have you noticed that your memory improves when you take care of your overall health and lifestyle?
Tags Brain Health