I’ve written many times about best practices for your health, and I regularly read health-related articles. Whether the articles are about reducing the chances of being impacted by cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, the suggestions all tend to revolve around eating well, exercising, managing stress, not smoking, and getting enough sleep.
To keeping your brain healthy (to reduce the chances, or delay the onset, of dementia), it’s also critical to stay cognitively and socially active (being around people you enjoy).
I enjoyed a recent episode on the TED Radio Hour called Memory And The Brain. I tend to find scientific podcasts very hard to listen to, but on this episode neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova did a great job holding my attention as she explained how to keep our brains healthy, and some excellent ways to understand memory loss, including when not to be concerned about it.
For example, not being able to recall where you parked your car at a shopping mall doesn’t mean you are having a memory problem. In fact, it doesn’t mean you forgot where you parked the car – what you forgot to do was to make a memory of where you parked the car. You were either distracted or you just didn’t think about remembering where you parked the car.
Having experienced many incidents like that, I often take a picture of the places where I park my car. I always do it at the airport, because I won’t be returning to the car right away. I also do it on city streets (and sometimes my phone automatically remembers where I parked the car, which helps).
We don’t remember most of the inconsequential things in our lives. So, Genova said, don’t feel bad if you can’t remember what you had for lunch three days ago – or even yesterday. You didn’t create the memory – because it wasn’t important.
We remember vacations better than average days because they are not “normal” days. We also take a lot of pictures on vacations and that helps us remember. We forget events of “normal” days because it’s part of our routines that all blend together – and forgetting doesn’t mean those events are not meaningful, emotional, or important to us.
If you misplace your keys, when you find them try and realize you didn’t pay attention to where you put them. This did not involve your memory. It’s not a memory problem!
She also mentioned a few tip-of-the-tongue words a week for a 25-year-old is normal. That number increases as you get older (which I am glad to hear, because it certainly happens to me more than it used to). Meanwhile, for someone with Alzheimer’s, it will happen dozens of times a day.
My mom passed away last year after an eight-year bout with Alzheimer’s. Blessedly, she was very happy during her final two years and her passing was swift and peaceful, with my dad and my sister by her side. I mention her because there is another element to disease which we cannot control – genetics. Hopefully, one day there will be effective treatments to reduce the impact of – or even cure – Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, in case I have those genes, I’m doing what I can – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, managing stress, not smoking, staying socially and cognitively active, and learning new things. I hope you are doing the same.