Before I address forgetfulness, let me tell you what a complete idiot I am. If you have been playing along at home, you know that the week of November 15th was Get Healthy week and last week was Get Happy week. In addition to memory loss, this week will be for me, personally, Get a Mirror week. I was so proud of my water-drinking, yoga-doing, skinny-jean wearing self that I threw myself into Get Happy week hard enough to leave a mark. My eyes, along with the rest of my body, are puffy and swollen. I have a tick in my left eye that is using morse code to tell me something (see Physical Manifestations of Stress 9/27) and a throbbing headache on the same side which according to me, is not a tumor. I gained back the four pounds I lost … plus two and my skin is dry and flaky. It is not a pretty picture and I am ashamed. Only a few days after Get Healthy week, I am a mess. How quickly we forget. Which brings me to this week’s topic — memory loss.
I have magical childhood Christmas memories. My mom decorated the house so that it felt like we lived at the North Pole and filled every moment in December with Christmas music and Christmas fun. It was also Christmas craziness, for in her efforts to deck our halls, she would always lose some of her mind. Every year, some non-Christmas stuff would fall through the cracks and we would find the Windex in the fridge and full cups of tea in the cabinets. My dad called it “silly season” and we would all laugh along, even my mom who was always such a good sport.
Well, I made my “to do” list this morning right after forgetting to give my kids a snack and putting bleach in with the colors and I am not feeling all that sporty. The list is longer and more daunting than Santa’s and I am sure I am forgetting some critical items. Now that I am the elf in charge, “silly season” has become “insanity season” and suddenly it is not so funny. Move over Mr. Grinch, make room for me on that sleigh pulled by a dog. (I think I need to drink some water, take some Advil and do a sit-up.)
We all experience memory loss. Today, when is it normal? Tomorrow, when you should worry.
1. Memory is retaining and recollecting past experiences or information. There are different types of memory that store information for use in the future.
Recent memory stores things like what time you woke up and what you had for lunch.
Short-term memory stores things like the name of someone you recently met, a phone number or what you need at the store.
Long-term memory stores anything from a few days to decades, e.g. all that you retained from school, childhood experiences, etc.
2. Age-related brain changes - clearly, I should be long dead. From an evolutionary perspective, we should have lived only into our 30s. We start to lose brain cells in our 20s which is scary when I think about how little I knew in my 20s. We also stop producing as much of the chemicals that make our brain work effectively. These changes affect our memory.
3. Long-term memory is not normally affected by these aging processes. Recent memory is affected the most and while it is frustrating, it can be normal. You may forget where you put your keys, the name of someone you just met or how many times your glass was filled. Whew … all very normal.
4. Stress can have a profound effect on your memory, causing lapses while you search for a word, an item or a child. This explains why you may forget your sister’s name while you are wrapping her gift or your spouse’s while you are, ummm … ho, ho, ho-ing.
5. Multitasking is one of the biggest causes of forgetfulness. Trying to keep all the balls in the air is a struggle for the most talented of clowns. Throw some fiery sticks and bowling pins in there and only the best will survive. The rest of us will just succeed in getting a laugh. When your memory fails you, rely on your sense of humor … it can turn an uncomfortable or frustrating experience around. Admit right away that you just can’t remember her name or put a homing device on your car keys. And, enjoy “silly season”. With all its surprises and shortcomings, it is still the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes the “silliest” moments provide the most lasting memories.
Of course, it isn’t always funny. Tomorrow, when memory loss should be taken seriously.
P.S. I am starting Healthy Week the sequel. It has everything the first one had, minus the ban on wine. It should prove to do much better at the box-office.