Memory and Aging: Senior Moments?
A group of senior women share comments on the changes they experience as they grow older. One says: "I'm tired of others saying that I 'm 'losing it' ". Another wonders whether she should be alarmed about her "senior moments." A third reads from a newspaper article: "Memory changes can cause unfounded fears."
Unfounded fears indeed! Research shows that the human brain functions well even into advanced age. Normal changes of aging might affect some aspects of memory and processing information, but people can make simple changes in behaviour to adapt and to stay sharp.
Some changes do occur in the structure and function of the brain. Actual brain size may shrink and blood flow may be reduced. By age 40, many people report difficulty doing more than one thing at a time or having to search for a word. They might have to work a bit harder to remember "to-do's" - or to recall people's names. But these common changes DO NOT signal impending dementia (or Alzheimer Disease).
Using new technology, such as neuron-imaging, as well as new and increasingly sensitive psychological tests, researchers have refuted the stereotype that aging people go into a general mental decline. Instead, they are finding that diverse brain functions decline at very different rates and that these losses vary widely among individuals.
Psychologists are finding that older people are not suffering from "memory overload". Rather, the changes seemed to be linked to difficulty in encoding and retrieving information. Distractions and slower processing may interfere with recalling names or dates. However, even with these changes, most older adults are still quite efficient at acquiring new information and storing it in long-term memory.
These findings suggest that, as we age, subtle changes in memory are not a sign of impending mental collapse. Reducing our anxiety around "senior moments" in and of itself can help the brain work more efficiently.
It's also a good idea not to put added pressure on yourself by saying, "but I used to do three things at once and remember everything!"
Here are some strategies:
Relax: anxiety makes your memory worse
Organize: always put glasses, gloves, and keys in the same place
Adapt: it's OK to write to-do list.
Limit distraction, particularly when you are trying to recall or to memorize
Rehab: embark on activities that stimulate the brain (e.g., crossword puzzles)
Get creative: use memory devices such as mnemonics or visualization
Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain.
Learn something new: take a course, volunteer, play a musical instrument
Learn more about memory changes at these online sources:
Is it Alzheimers? www.alzheimer.ca
Brain Gain: Mental Exercise makes elderly minds more fit
Vol. 3, No. 22
© ElderWise Inc. 2007.
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