A few weeks ago my sister sent me an apologetic email. She had forgotten my son's birthday. The same week she couldn't remember where she parked her car and she lost one of her favorite earrings. Her excuse? "I'm a card carrying member of the "I can't remember sh*t club," she explained.
Sound familiar? I reluctantly joined that club years ago, and I daresay I'm not alone. Groucho Marx famously opined, "I don't care to belong to any club that would have me as a member." But join this club we do, because like it or not, while we may get wiser as we age, we also tend to forget sh*t.
Like many adult children with aging parents, my sister and I worry about our occasional memory lapses, particularly since our father was diagnosed with dementia. We first noticed that dad's baseline absent-mindedness (like calling me by our dog's name) had shifted to something more ominous ten years ago. Dad got lost driving home from the local grocery store and forgot to pay the bills -- both behaviors very atypical for him. While my sister and I enjoy laughing at each other's "I can't remember sh*t" moments, there is a more serious underlying issue at play. When we walk into a room and can't remember what we are looking for, or when we see an old friend in the supermarket and are horrified that we can't remember her name, we worry: Are we are losing our memory?
Recently I watched a movie on Netflix and realized half way through that I had seen it before. While disconcerting, it is not the same as forgetting how to drive or getting lost on my way home. And yet, how much control do we have of our destinies -- or our genes at this point?
If you're a current, or shall we say aspiring, member of the "I can't remember sh*t club," there are a few things you should know:
*Don't panic. Around midlife, the amount of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain begins to decline. This results in a less-sharp memory. So, when you call the kids by each other's names, or lose your cell phone in the laundry, it's not necessarily a sign of disease.
*Live a heart-healthy life. There are two primary types of dementia: Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. Studies have shown that mid-life smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes can exponentially increase the risk of vascular dementia late in life. The reason is that cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease can result in mini-strokes -- incidents that don't manifest as a major brain attack, but over time cause lapses in memory.
*Keep learning. According to Alzheimer's researchers, the more active your brain, the longer you'll be able to stave off dementia and the better you'll be able to cope and adapt if you do develop a memory-deficit disorder.
*Keep laughing with your friends...even if they all belong to the "I can't remember sh*t club."Socializing and physical activities can delay the onset of dementia.
But if, like my dad, I end up getting dementia one day, I hope I am blessed with his perspective on life, his good nature and his sense of humor. Dad has not forgotten how to engage with those he loves, even though he often forgets our names. And he continues to laugh , almost daily, and bring joy into our lives. My dad reminds me of the George Bernard Shaw adage:
"You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing."
And that is one lesson I learned from my dad that I hope I will always remember.