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Dealing with Memory Changes As You Grow Older




Excerpted from
Dealing with Memory Changes As You Grow Older
By Kathleen Gose

How Memory Serves Us

"I've a grand memory for forgetting," said Alan Breck in Kidnapped. As we grow older many of us know what Robert Louis Stevenson's character means. Our own memories seem good at forgetting.

Although we may be concerned about changes in our ability to remember, our memories are still remarkable. Throughout our lives memory plays a major part in defining who we are. Memory serves us in many ways.

  • It is the basis of all knowledge we have about ourselves and the world.

  • It registers, stores, and makes available information about countless things we have experienced in life, from childhood to a moment ago.

  • It records our emotions and feelings.

  • It is used in the performance of all the skills we have, from riding a bicycle, knitting, driving a car, to speaking our own, or a foreign language.

  • It records our sensory experiences and makes it possible to recognize something we have seen before, or can see in the mind's eye; something we have heard before, or can hear in our minds; or to recognize an odor, a taste, a touch.

It is easy not to notice all that we remember - to take all this for granted. We tend to dwell on what we forget; but the fact is, we have trouble remembering only certain things from our vast stores of memory.

Still it is irritating and sometimes disheartening to find that you have forgotten a name or a fact that you heard only yesterday. Many older people notice that their memory plays more tricks on them than it did when they were younger. This can sometimes be upsetting and worrisome. It is not possible to strengthen your memory the way you might strengthen your muscles, but it is possible to make it work more efficiently.

What This Handbook Is About

If you are looking for ways to improve your memory, this handbook can help you. The handbook includes:

  1. Information about how memory works.
  2. Information about how aging affects memory.
  3. Practical suggestions for remembering which are used by older people.
  4. Instructions about how to use certain memory aids.
  5. Information on the impact of health and lifestyle on memory.

To help you understand how memory works the handbook explains the Three R's, REGISTERING, RETAINING, and RETRIEVING. The book also looks at some of the reasons why people forget.

You will find practical suggestions by older people that may help you cope with everyday forgetting. They may also make you aware of how well you are already managing.
Memory aids, or mnemonic techniques, which can be used in certain circumstances, are also introduced.

The book gives a perspective on the changes in memory which come with increasing age. It considers the effects of energy levels and stress on memory, and discusses intelligence and learning during later life. The subject of senility and related disorders is also explored.

The book deals with the relationship between lifestyle and memory. The way you live - eating, resting, moving about, playing and working - all affect memory. The handbook emphasizes the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit. Finally the book explores the significant role of memory in the development of the whole human being and in the gaining of wisdom.

A narrow approach to improving your memory by learning a few memory aids may prove disappointing to anyone interested in the effects of aging and memory. A broad understanding of how your mind, body, and spirit work together provides a firm basis for making long-lasting gains in dealing with memory changes. This book can act as a guide. Choose what works for you.

Pinpointing Your Difficulties in Forgetting

You may have selected this book because you are concerned about your memory changes. In everyday matters you may be experiencing some forgetting. Do you forget specific things or things in general? Some things are easily remembered and some easily forgotten.

It might be helpful to pinpoint your forgetting difficulties. The following questionnaire asks about everyday memory slips. It asks you to look at how often you forget certain things, what your feelings are when you forget, and what you do when you forget.

Feelings and Forgetting

A Realistic Look at Unpleasant Feelings

It is easy to be concerned if you find yourself becoming more forgetful. And it is easy to contrast present forgetfulness with your past abilities to remember. Forgetfulness causes unpleasant feelings which can range from embarrassment and frustration to anxiety, humiliation, loss of self-confidence and sometimes even fear. People who are forgetful may begin to feel that they are losing control and start to pay more attention to the times when they can't remember than they do to the times when they can. They begin to wonder if perhaps their forgetfulness is a sign of senility. There can be a snowball effect as stress caused by worry over forgetfulness begins to play a part in their inefficient memories.

Of course, not all older people feel this upset about changes in their memories. When a group of active seniors from a west coast seniors' center answered the questionnaire on forgetting they did not hesitate to reply with many negative descriptions about their feelings, such as: "annoyed," "furious," "cross with myself," "embarrassed," "stupid," "incompetent," "resentment over failing memory," "unsure." In one instance they even felt "ashamed," "guilty," "terrible," and "horrible."

However, when these seniors were asked about their negative feelings most of them replied that there is a big difference between how they feel when they forget things and how they feel about themselves as a whole. Although they frequently forget and often get upset over forgetting, they usually don't allow memory problems to get them down for long. Their replies show a matter-of-fact realism:

- "I'm learning to accept my memory. Others are in the same boat."

- "The locks to the filing cabinet grow rusty and slow the process of thinking ... a lighter attitude towards shortcomings helps."

- "I try not to worry too much but don't rely on my memory as much as I used to. Now I write things down."



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