by Linda Franklin
Where did I put my keys? Why did I come into the kitchen? Sound familiar? We refer to this temporary memory loss as a senior moment, or at least I do. And, scientists last week declared that our ability to remember everyday things such as names and numbers starts to go at the tender age of 45. OY!!!
But before you resign yourself to spending the second half of your life as a mental basket-case, there is positive scientific news, too.
First the bad news….Last week’s study of more than 7,000 participants published online in the British Medical Journal, revealed how our power of recall starts to decline earlier than previously thought. Men and women suffered the same 3.6 per cent loss in memory power between the ages of 45 and 49.
Processing speed in our brains slows down from our 20s onwards. ‘By mid-life, most of our brains show some fraying around the edges,’ says Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life Of The Grown-Up Brain.
Senior moment – or something worse?
In normal age-related memory loss, short-term recall is usually most affected. In moderation, this is quite healthy. It is also natural to worry that such mid-life forgetfulness is a harbinger of something more sinister, such as dementia.
The ‘aha!’ test can indicate if you should be concerned. If you forget a word temporarily, but feel that it is on the tip of your tongue, and finally recall it with a sense of ‘Aha! That’s it,’ then your reaction is healthy.
Growing older is not the only reason that our memory power may dwindle. Our ability to remember things can also be afflicted by our lifestyles. One common problem may be stress. Isn’t it always?
Studies show that quick bursts of stressful excitement can actually benefit our memory — perhaps because our brains evolved to rally their best resources when faced with an immediate threat such as a tiger in the grass. But long-term chronic stress, the sort that can grind into us with the constant demands of busy modern life, can damage our brain’s ability form new memories.
The good news…
Stresses and strains aside, modern life has good news for middle-aged brains. Neuroscientists have recently begun to discover how the mid-life brain, rather than giving up, instead reconfigures itself in order to cope.
As researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, and elsewhere have found, people in middle age begin to use two sides of their brains where previously only one might have been employed on a task. This is called bilateralisation.
How to protect your memory
Fortunately, health researchers believe there are ways in which we can significantly help to preserve our memory in later life.
Brain training: Just a little daily exercise, could reduce the risk of the decline of your mental abilities, many studies have shown
Just taking a little more daily exercise could make a huge difference for millions of people. ‘More than 13 studies show that exercise can reduce risk by up to 45 per cent,’ ‘Evidence shows that the exercise does not have to be strenuous to have this benefit: it can involve active walking for around 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
And beware any claim about how any single food can boost your memory. Only last year, an important report in the Journal of the American Medical Association punctured the idea that the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba is a brain-saver. The study of more than 3,000 adults found that it made no difference at all.
This I find very interesting. No matter how good we think our powers of memory are, they can all be fooled. Because, whatever our age, memory is a slippery thing that can be grossly misleading.
Researchers who study how people remember momentous events have discovered that although people will swear faithfully that they remember exactly what they were doing when they first heard news of the event, their memory is wrong in about a third of cases.
When we use our minds to recall a particular memory, we do not go back to the event itself, but rather to the last time we remembered it. Each recollection adds new flaws and reinforces previous flaws. Eventually, we settle on a version that we subsequently consider to be gospel truth. So be careful about what you think you remember. Memory, — including the false elements — solidifies and becomes your person’s constant ‘truth’.
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