The trip to the kitchen is fraught with danger.
There’s always something in the way. Maybe you have to search for your wallet before hitting the refrigerator. A wrinkled shirt is screaming to be hung up before digging into the ice cream. The lone sock on the floor is wailing for its lost companion. With all those things intervening it’s easy to forget why you were headed to the kitchen in the first place.
We call it memory. And a lot of AFLers say it’s slipping.
Wikipedia defines memory as the process where information is coded, stored, and retrieved. Psychology Today says “memory makes us.” Albert Einstein advised, “never memorize what you can look up in books.”
According to the American Psychological Association, some types of memory may continue – even improve – as you age. Other types, like Episodic Memory or the what, where, and when of daily life, might slow or slightly decline with the years.
Don’t we know it?
Ever lose your keys or forget the name of your best friend’s dog? Ever go to the store and can’t remember what you desperately needed fifteen minutes earlier? Ever go into a room and forget what you were looking for?
Then there’s multitasking – can you talk on the phone and follow a recipe or watch football and listen to your wife talking about the grandkids – at the same time?
No worry – socializing, exercising, eating healthy, avoiding multitasking, and writing lists can make it better. Anxiety, medication side effects, unhealthy eating, fatigue, and stress can make it worse.
Grizabella, an aging glamour feline, sang about Memory in the musical Cats:
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin.
Like the morning after Election Day.
Then there are memories. Forgetting where you left your car in the mall parking lot might be solved by a tiny GPS on your keychain but long-term memories hang around. They’re usually warm and fuzzy and make you smile. Or wince. Either way, if you don’t remember the exact story, no one knows any better.
Who cares if your c-student son wasn’t really president-elect of the 3rd grade Honor Society?
Maybe that fish you caught from a rowboat 30 years ago was 12 pounds smaller?
Perhaps your pedigreed show dog was actually a designer mutt?
Short-term memory can hold about 7 items for 20-30 seconds and then it’s gone unless you deposit it, like a paycheck, into your long-term memory bank. Try remembering a telephone number without writing it down. There’s a total of ten numbers, not including a country code – way beyond the short-term limit. It makes you long for the days of Beechwood 45-789.
Studies have found that long-term memories shift each time they’re accessed. Even though they appear dependable, long-term memories are susceptible to change, misinformation, and interference. Elizabeth Loftus demonstrated this in a famous study where she convinced 25% of her subjects they had an experience that never really happened. It was called false memories. Like false truths and false teeth.
Is that why my husband gets away with telling the same jokes for forty years?
Simply put, long-term memories are fickle. They fade or change with time. Just ask Mr. Trump.
What’s an AFLer to do?
American Psychological Association suggests a few “memory aids.”
- Keep a “to do” list and check off items when you complete them.
- Keep a routine.
- Don’t rush.
- Keep everything in its place and hopefully you won’t “lose” them.
- Make associations between things so it’s easier to recall.
- Keep a calendar and check it regularly.
Don’t panic. We’re all in this together. You probably don’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s – only a touch of minor age-related memory loss. Laugh. It’s really funny when it takes two of you to remember the name of your favorite TV show.
If all else fails, grab the post-it notes.
Just don’t forget to read them.