Let’s see, what am I supposed to do next?

Look, we’re not sitting here at BoomerCafé thinking, Whoa, our leading-edge baby boomers are getting so oooooold! But what we do know is, we kid each other these days about some of the symptoms of getting older, especially the memory part. Let’s see, what was the name of that movie?!? That’s why, of all the writings we’ve looked at lately about what it means when we forget where we put the keys, this one by Mary A. Fischer, which we saw at AARP.org, rings the truest. It’s about the reasons why baby boomers shouldn’t worry.

Maybe it starts with simply forgetting something.

You can’t remember the route to a restaurant you’ve been to many times before or the birthday present a friend gave you a month ago.

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Mental activities can minimize memory loss.

Then comes the worry.

Is your forgetfulness a sign of something serious? Such brain freezes happen to most of us, to different degrees, as we age. Even experienced public speakers have their “oops” moments, when a word or term they use on a daily basis simply refuses to come to mind.

But while such common memory lapses are frustrating, they don’t necessarily mean you’re losing your marbles. If your lapses aren’t disrupting your life, there’s no need to be actively worried, experts say.

“The key issue is whether cognitive changes are significantly interfering with daily activities,” says Kirk R. Daffner, M.D., chief of the division of cognitive and behavioral neurology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. If that’s happening, you should consult your doctor. Your lapses may well have very treatable causes. Severe stress, depression, a vitamin B-12 deficiency, insufficient sleep, some prescription drugs and infections can all play a role.

Even if these factors don’t apply to you, your memory isn’t completely at the mercy of time. Studies have shown that people who exercise, stay mentally active, socialize regularly and eat a healthy diet can minimize memory loss.

Still worried? Here are six types of normal memory lapses that are not a cause for worry.

1. Absentmindedness.

Where in the world did you leave your keys? Or why the heck did you walk into the living room anyway? Both of these very common lapses usually stem from lack of attention or focus. It’s perfectly normal to forget directions to somewhere you haven’t visited in a while. But “if you’ve lived on a block for 10 years, and you walk out the door and get lost, that’s much more serious,” says Debra Babcock, M.D., of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

2. Blocking.

Exercise can minimize memory loss.

Exercise can minimize memory loss.

This is the frustrating tip-of-the-tongue moment. You know the word you’re trying to say, but you can’t quite retrieve it from memory. It usually happens when several similar memories interfere with each other. A 2011 study, published in the journal Brain Research, showed that elderly participants had to activate more areas of the brain to perform a memory task than the study’s young subjects. “We’re all accessing the same brain networks to remember things,” says Babcock, “but we have to call in the troops to do the work when we get older, while we only have to call in a few soldiers when we’re younger.”

3. Scrambling.

This is when you accurately remember most of an event or other chunk of information, but confuse certain key details. One example: A good friend tells you over dinner at a restaurant that she is taking out a second mortgage on her home. Later, you correctly recall the gist of her news but think she told you during a phone conversation.
Research points to the importance of the hippocampus – a region of the brain crucial in the formation of memories about events, including the particular time and place they occurred. Scientists estimate that, after the age of about 25, the hippocampus loses 5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing decade.

4. Fading away

The brain is always sweeping out older memories to make room for new ones. The more time that passes between an experience and when you want to recall it, the more likely you are to have forgotten much of it. So while it is typically fairly easy to remember what you did over the past several hours, recalling the same events and activities a month, or a year, later is considerably more difficult. This basic “use-it-or-lose-it” feature of memory known as transience is normal at all ages, not just among older adults.

5. Struggling for retrieval

You were just introduced to someone, and seconds later, you can’t remember her name. Or you saw a great film, but when you tell a friend about it the next day, you’ve completely forgotten the title. Aging changes the strengths of the connections between neurons in the brain. New information can bump out other items from short-term memory unless it is repeated again and again.

6. Muddled multitasking

At some point the number of things you can do effectively at one time diminishes. Maybe you can’t watch the news and talk on the phone at the same time anymore. Not such a bad thing, really.
Studies show that, the older we get, the more the brain has to exert effort to maintain focus. Further, it takes longer to get back to an original task after an interruption.

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3 Comments on "Let’s see, what am I supposed to do next?"

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Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
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‘not a cause for worry’ – not sure about that. The people I know/have known with dementia don’t know they have lapses. I’ve always thought that noticing and worrying about these things meant you were still okay. I fear the time when and if I won’t notice, or will, like someone I loved, pretend it isn’t happening. The pretending, the tap dancing around the issue, is what really worries me – but I’m not sure I’ll notice when I do that! And if I notice, will I be able to do anything about it? All the advice about eating healthily… Read more »
Allison Hinde
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I agree. If you are worried about something like dementia and alzheimers chances are you wont get it. I dont have a family tendency for it and on mothers side of the family women seem to live a long time. I am still getting more concerned on being mobile since we are living in a country that like to sit and eat more!

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
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Unfortunately, both my mother and her mother developed dementia (not Alzheimer’s from the symptoms), and, though my grandmother lived to 94, and my mother is now 93, they lived with symptoms for a long time – 20 years, and ended up requiring full time care.

That scares me. A lot. Mother always said I had Daddy’s genes – I hope that is true. He died at 91, but his mind was clear up until the end.

But it’s a sobering thing to consider.

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