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Published on: July 10, 2013
by Agnes Herman for U~T San Diego:
The headline read, “Are you experiencing normal memory loss — or dementia?” It was brazenly written on the front page of my July issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch. The picture was comforting, four women representing four age groups with different degrees of forgetfulness.
The focus was remembering names: 13 percent of 18-year-olds, 35 percent of 45-year-olds, 38 percent of 55-year-olds and 51 percent of 75-year-olds have difficulty remembering names. Anything that tells us we are not alone is a comfort.
The article went further to help us understand memory loss. When we forget the name of someone we see rarely or just met, it is quite normal. When it is a family member we see regularly, perhaps it is time to talk to the doctor.
Everyone misplaces the car keys, but if you forget how to drive or how to use those keys, there may be a problem. Balancing the checkbook, I identify with that. But when that includes forgetting to pay the bills, month after month, perhaps there is cause for concern.
My friend is 87 years old, she told me a story about forgetting ordinary items. She went to spend a weekend with her daughter who lives an hour away, in the country. When she prepared for bed she opened her suitcase and to her astonishment found that she had forgotten her meds, toothpaste, toothbrush and other parts of her nightly routine. She was angry and distressed with herself; she is generally well organized. But her forgetting was not finished. When she unpacked at home after the weekend, she placed a call to her daughter, “Did you find my black sweater anyplace?” “Yes, it was neatly folded in the drawer where you placed it on Friday.”
Forgetting plagues all of us, even to the young. It can be controlled with more organization once we face the fact. When we discussed travel we suggested that a check-off list was helpful. Even a weekend away needs certain “take alongs” that we prefer not to forget. If we have a list to refer to, forgetting will not be a burden. I find that a sticky note on my mirror reminds me to turn off the lights. The article also recommended that we write things we want to remember on our calendar. Returning the car keys to the same accessible container can become a helpful habit. Works better than tossing them down anyplace.
We spoke of forgetting names, especially people we have just met. A good helpful habit is repeat the name out loud as we greet them. “I am so happy to meet you Mary Lou.” That will help the name stick. Writing it down is helpful. Not everyone has a smartphone, but everyone can have a small notebook. Writing it down records the important matter. The act of writing enables recall.
When we are trying to learn a new phone number or a special bit of information, eliminate distractions. Whether it is television or a child asking a question, we cannot learn that new phone number the plumber is sharing until we concentrate.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch also recommends a Mediterranean diet and regular exercise to keep blood flowing properly to the brain to keep dementia at bay.
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