You know that awful moment when you’re standing in the middle of the living room, wondering, “Why am I here?” No, not the existential “Why am I here?” as in your reason for living, but the more ordinary “Why did I just walk into this room?”
You backtrack through what you were doing right before you landed in the living room. Perhaps you were fixing dinner, opening the mail, whatever. While you try to figure out why you needed to be there, a pernicious whisper creeps into your mind: “Am I going senile? Is this the beginning of Alzheimer’s? Dementia?”
You beat that thought to death with your various rationalizations. There’s no history of dementia in my family. I’m in great health. I’m only 60-70-80 years young. Nonetheless, the next time you find yourself stranded clueless in front of the fridge, or opening your laptop, the whisper insidiously repeats itself. Senility, Alzheimer’s, dementia. And it’s all you can do to not run screaming.
But here’s the thing. You had those same moments when you were 20. Yes, you did. I know you did. We all have! But when you’re 20 or 30, you don’t think twice about it. There isn’t even a hint of a shadow of “dementia” or any other whisper, such as “I must be going crazy,” or “I’m totally losing it.” You think, “Well, this is silly,” and off you go about the rest of your day.
Given the power of positive attitude relative to happy healthy aging, adopting your youthful reassurance. Saying, “Well, this is silly,” to such moments would serve you extremely well. No matter how many years have passed. But what if, in addition to leveraging the power of positivity to your benefit, science came to your rescue? There is now new information as to why those odd moments occur, seemingly more as we journey into our later years.
A fascinating study on how memories are formed presented individuals between the ages of 19 to 76 with a series of faces on a screen. The visual cortices (the part of the brain that deals with what we see) were being scanned. The researchers then asked the subjects to recall where those faces had appeared on the screen. The younger persons’ visual cortices were extremely active, demonstrating that younger individuals paid considerable attention to the perceptual details on the screen.
Older individuals processed the information quite differently. Their visual cortices were less active. Their medial prefrontal cortices, the part of the brain that has to do with introspection and what’s meaningful to you, were more active.
In a nutshell, younger people were more attentive to external details. Older people were more attuned to internal considerations. They cared about whether the faces mattered or were meaningful to them.
The researchers concluded that short-term memory deficits, like forgetting where you put your keys or parked your car, might not reflect a decline or deficit in brain function. It might have more to do with what we consider important information as we age.
It’s all about focus. Try making a point of deliberately looking at where you are putting your keys. This is automatic when you’re younger. Then you’re more likely to remember where they are. When you water your plants in the kitchen also make a deliberate picture in your mind of watering the living room plants. That way, you will more likely to remember why you wandered into the room. In other words, engage your visual cortex on purpose!
It is important to be aware of how our physical, mental and emotional selves evolve as we progress through time. This will prevent jumping to dismal conclusions that may have no basis in reality. Having said that, some memory issues may be indicative of a serious medical condition. Always discuss your concerns with your physician.
Are there things we are better off doing differently? Certainly! Does it take a tad bit more effort to attend to external details when really you’d rather be off musing internally about this, that or the other? Yes!
But heck, given the choice between getting my visual cortex in gear to help me remember things or thinking I’m sliding into dementia… the choice is clear!
Do you ever find yourself unable to remember why you walked into a room? Do you have any special ways to remember the occasional moments of forgetfulness? Please join the conversation below.
Tags Brain Health