With 10,000 adults turning 65 each day, boomers are the most active generation we have seen in our lifetime. However, as our population ages, many can't help but worry if a "senior moment" might actually be something worse.
As Alzheimer's is the only top 10 cause of death without treatment or cure, healthy, aging adults are frightened about the prospect of developing this disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million by 2025 -- a 40 percent increase. Many boomers have seen firsthand the toll Alzheimer's takes on families as caregivers.
Forgetful moments like "Where did I put my car keys?" or "What did I come into this room
for?" can trigger cause for concern. But you are not alone and this doesn't mean that you have the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease. Changes in memory are common in middle-aged and older adults. In fact, the most common complaints from these two groups of people include remembering names and words.
Additionally, most middle and older adults are aware that they can no longer multitask as they did in their younger years. Aging brains are less efficient than in years past; and therefore most memory-related complaints are for recent or short-term memory vs. older memories.
Learning new information requires more time as we age and the recollection of old information may be slowed. While these changes may cause some frustration in daily life, these normal changes should not interfere with daily living. In fact, most age-associated memory changes can improve when individuals learn new techniques to sharpen memory skills.
Here are some strategies to sharpen your memory:
1. ACTIVELY OBSERVE and think about what you want to remember. Use all of your senses. Being active in learning information heightens your abilities to look at details more closely, smell, touch and listen more carefully. In other words, pay attention to what or who you want to remember.
2. ASSOCIATE or link what you want to remember with what you already know. For example, if you meet a new person named Barbara, think about someone you knew in the past named Barbara. You may learn that Barbara is from Boston or owns a poodle or loves to cook. Associate the information you learn about Barbara to other learned memories as this will link the new information and become more meaningful.
3. VISUALIZE a picture in your mind of what you want to remember. Using the example of meeting Barbara, build upon that by visualizing Barbara from Boston cooking a lobster. Sometimes using whacky or fantastical images create the most robust memories, but for most people, it will require some practice as we tend to be very logical and serious as adults.
4. ACTIVELY THINK and expand on the details that you want to remember. The more details you can gain by listening and asking questions will add more meaning and will likely be remembered.
5. PRACTICE these or other strategies on a daily basis and you will find that your memory for names and words will improve.
If you or a loved one is worried about Alzheimer's or if you want to help move Alzheimer's research forward, one of the best things you can do is join the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry. The Registry serves to connect healthy adults with researchers who are conducting vital prevention studies to accelerate the search for a cure to this devastating disease. The more people who join, the closer scientists will come to stopping Alzheimer's within our lifetime. Sign up now at www.endalznow.org.
People often tell me the day they were born to test my memory, and after telling them the day of the week, I love to turn the tables and ask them about their 21st birthday. The context of a memory helps fill in details that may, at first, be a little hazy. When you recall the day of the week an event took place, everything else starts to make more sense. Even though my mind has automatically stored that my 21st birthday was on a Friday, yours doesn't have to. Find the day of the week of your 21st birthday by Googling the date. Just knowing how long you had to wait for a weekend or how quickly you were back at school or work after your night of partying will help unlock details that you didn't remember were in there.
Music is one of the easiest ways to remember something. It can put us back in a physical or mental space faster than almost any other trigger. Furthermore, any song you can call your favorite is probably loaded with memories. Maybe your first listen jumps right into your head, but if it doesn't, find the song on YouTube and let yourself be transported back to the first time that song graced your soon-to-be in love ears (or your soon-to-be-dancing feet!)
Weddings are usually memorable occasions in our lives, and they appeal to our love of linear thinking. It starts with getting ready, followed by the ceremony, the reception, and then, perhaps, the after party. I call this horizontal memory because it moves along a swath of horizontal time and sequences events in an easy-to-visualize timeline. However, we can also remember a wedding in a vertical manner, unlocking more information as we go deeper and deeper into one particular moment. The more you think about actually being there, the more information will come to you. You might also get a lot out of remembering in a mushrooming way, where the wedding opens you up to a whole sea of connected memories, including those that occurred months later and months before. Both this method and the final one, sporadic remembering (completely non-connected events that spring to mind), are more free associative than horizontal or vertical thinking, but they can be especially useful for seeing the big picture of a certain time in your life.
I know from teaching memory classes for years that everyone has a dominant sense that helps you record, retain, and retrieve memories. Which one is yours? Sight, sound, touch, taste or smell? When trying to recall a first date with someone, play to your strengths and use your dominant sense to trigger the memories of that date. (How did they look, what did they say, how did they feel, what did you eat, or how did they smell?) By activating your dominant sense, you may not only be able to bask in the glow of a long forgotten moment, you may also be able to look at it under a harsh light that will help you notice a red flag you should have seen the first time around.
One thing that amazes people, even more than my ability to recall dates and events, is how many phone numbers I hold in my mind. This is especially freaky when I haven't seen somebody for a decade or two. There are many techniques out there for remembering strings of numbers, but here's how I do it, and I think it's the most personal method out there. Each one of us automatically knows several combinations of numbers that we can relate to at a glance (a birthday, anniversary, etc). When you have a phone number to remember, break it into two-, three-, or four-digit pieces that are already significant to you, and it'll be much easier. You don't need to make up images to remember the number, because it is all coming from things you already know.
This one you obviously remember, otherwise you wouldn't think of it as your favorite day. But how well do you remember it? Really dive into the details of what made this day so special? Was it the people? Some activity you love to do? What you were wearing, reading or even eating? Whatever gets you back there most vividly is probably something I call your primary memory Track - the lens through which you can most easily access your past (e.g. travel, sports, clothing, relationships, etc.) Everyone has something they remember especially well, and knowing your Track will help take you back!
People often say to me, "No way can I remember a few years ago. I can't even remember what I ate for dinner last week!" Using the suggestions from panels 1-6, prompt your memory by applying them to last Sunday's dinner. Use the date, music, the four types of memory retrieval, your dominant sense, a significant number and your primary memory Track to get the ball rolling on what you did and, eventually, what you ate last Sunday. If you still cannot remember, try paying attention this Sunday, so that next week at this time, you will remember! Memory takes practice, and like anything else, practice makes perfect!