By Mary Andrews
I cannot find my key ring with my house and car keys and the cute thingamajig on it that I bought on a trip. Seriously, I cannot find them anywhere.
We have searched the house. My husband searched the car. They are gone. How did that happen? Where did I put them? I am clueless. This just is not like me at all.
This forgetting and searching led me to do some research on memory problems.
The first thing to know is that every single one of us forgets things – and we have all through our lives. As children we forgot to do things we had been asked. As teenagers we forgot books at school that we needed to use for homework and “forgot” when we were supposed to be home.
However, at the same time we learned about all kinds of events and places and were able to remember dates, how to do math problems, the steps in a science experiment, words in a play’s script or song lyrics. We memorized the Pledge of Allegiance, how to fix a tire, read a dress pattern, vocabulary words or cook. We remembered a lot of information.
When we were employed our jobs required us to remember things like work policies and procedures, people’s names, the details about our job and the chain of command. We had to prepare for meetings and complete projects on time. Our brains were in constant use sending all kinds of information swirling around in our brains. Yet we forgot to pick up the laundry, where we left a report and who we were supposed to pass information along to, etc.
Today most seniors are not in school and the majority of us are not employed full time. Therefore, most of us are not required to keep a large body of facts ready for retrieval at a moment’s notice. We simply get out of practice working our memory “muscle.” Along with this, the production of a hormone which assists in learning and memory tends to decrease.
While we may not remember the day of the week President Eisenhower was inaugurated or the exact date of a grandchild’s birthday, those are not the things we worry about forgetting.
What worries us is forgetting where we put the car keys (hmmm), what temperature to bake a certain food, where the tire pressure gauge is, missing a doctor’s appointment or the things on our “To Do” list. Some of us have even “lost” our car in the parking lot because, as one woman in the grocery store parking lot told me, “All the cars look alike and the antenna goes down when I turn off the key, so I can’t tie a ribbon to it to help me find the car.”
These things tend to scare us and lead us to fear we are developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Worrying about memory loss will not help us one bit. Rather, we need to be proactive and do something about it. This is a brief list of some things that can impair our ability to remember: The medications we take, low hormone levels – estrogen in women and testosterone in men, getting too little sleep, worrying about real or imagined problems, living alone, depression, being homebound, not eating well because our sense of smell and/or taste is less, stress. Believe it or not, being dehydrated (not drinking enough water) can be a cause of memory loss.
The first thing we need to do is to ask our doctor or pharmacist to take a look at the medications we take to see is any contribute to forgetfulness or fuzzy thinking and to see if these can be eliminated or changed.
Second we need to calm down and start practicing using our brain to improve our memory. There are lots of books you can buy to help you, including “Improving Your Memory For Dummies,” but I would like to have you consider things I and my seniors have suggested:
• Keys – always put your keys in the same place when you get home. Then tuck one in your wallet or in a Hide-A-Key under your car bumper.
• Bill paying – buy a plastic tub. When a bill comes, write the due date to mail it on your calendar. Put it in the tub along with everything you need handy when you pay bills –checkbook, envelopes and stamps, paper clips, stapler and a staple remover, calculator, ruler, pens and pencils etc. Always keep the box in the same drawer or cupboard so it is easy to get.
• Shopping list – always make a shopping list. Do you remember the tool we all used in school to learn our list of spelling words? It was: Look, Say, Write, Spell. We used all our senses to learn those words. Now, as you make your list, in your mind see what you need to buy, say it aloud and write it on your list. Try to group items together that are near each other in the store such as all the produce or car repair items. Before going to the store, “see” everything you are going to buy and read the list aloud. Also, before going into a store, notice which entrance you are near.
• Crossword puzzles – we have all heard how doing these puzzles can “flex” the brain. Buy a magazine with very simple crossword puzzles and give it a try. Be sure to buy a crossword puzzle dictionary, too, as you will need it at first.
• Practice remembering things – exercise your brain by remembering what you had for lunch or dinner two days ago, which programs you watched on TV, an article from yesterday’s paper, how to fix a flat tire or make a certain recipe or books you have read. Practice makes things easier to do, so stick with it and practice.
• Stress beaters – we often forget things because we are too rushed. Let’s stop being so hard on ourselves. Slow down and take a few deep breaths to help ourselves relax so we can use our brains to our advantage. Other stress beaters are having a massage or taking a slow walk.
• Use your brain is silly ways – several sources recommended memorizing license plates to boost brainpower. That is not for me, as I need to watch where I am driving. However, you might try this suggestion just for fun. It is silly, but at our ages we can afford to be silly. After all some of us even wear red hats out to dinner. When you are stopped behind a car at a stop light, look at the 3 letters on the license plate in front of you and try to make a word or silly phrase out of them. You can even use this trick to remember the letters on your own license plate. My old license plate had NDD which became “New Dazzling Diamond.” It is goofy, but your brain has to react quickly. Some are easy, e.g. “NFL” – National Football League, North Fort Lane, Nicholas Francis Long. Others are more tricky, e.g. “BWS” Boy Who Skates, Brian William Smith, Brenda Wows Stadium. Just use your imagination.
Come on seniors, let’s step out and take charge of rebuilding our brains. Now if only I could find my keys.