We are made of memories. Like a high-rise building, our memories are the floors upon which we are structured. From our earliest years, we store stimuli and events which shape us physiologically and psychologically. We are what we absorb, using memories to shape our personalities and reactions to life. Without those memories, we become a mere shell of a building; if there are no floors, there is no internal structure. As Alzheimer’s disease dramatically demonstrates, those who lose memories become a mere memory themselves.
This is a great fear we all have. It is an existential fear, so grounded in our experience as to make it life pervasive; it makes us question the very meaning, foundation and purpose of our sense of self. If we cannot remember, we are no longer ourselves. And that is frightening.
There is a natural memory loss, though, that accompanies the normal aging process. Occurring over a lifetime, there is a two percent shrinkage in our brain’s volume. The brain’s contraction interferes with some brain functions as efficient noun retrieval, name recognition or recall, intermittent word mispronunciations, momentary spatial confusion or clumsy word substitution. These mental mishaps certainly do not redefine us nor dramatically change our relationship with the world. They may cause us to pay more attention and concentrate more when we meet a new person, forcing us more to concentrate on associations or patterns. When we drive we may momentarily forget where we are or fail to briefly recall a familiar route. When speaking we may be dismayed when our tongue wags more quickly than intended and speak a mispronounced word or unintended phrase. These mental faux pas are annoying and quixotic, but by no means cause for alarm or fear.
Shrinkage of the brain may also cause other symptoms such as diminishment of reaction time, of speed, of coordination and of multi-tasking. These also do not by themselves indicate a progressive and irreversible decline in mental and physical abilities. They are indications of normal aging, not a disease or an unnamed mental malady. A slight tremor in the hand may be nothing more than a slight tremor in the hand or a misstep or stumble nothing more than a carelessness or tripping over an unforeseen obstruction. These things are annoying, but not life altering. And the true wonder of our brain and our physique is that our memories, our reaction times, our coordination, our speed and our ability to multi-task can be improved at any age.
Our muscles have memory and want to reclaim their lost strength and speed. And our neural pathways want to be more efficient. Exercises that stress your brain and muscles will bear wondrous results. The utilization of the C.A.R. technique (concentration, association, and repetition) and other helpful aids will help in memory recall and the occasional mispronunciations. You cannot reclaim your youth, but you can slow down, stop or reverse the natural atrophy. We all have an appointment with our last breath and our minds and bodies do degenerate. But, their capacity to support you and perform activities of daily life lies undiminished.
Be active in mind and body. Aging is a natural phenomenon, but aging gracefully is a misnomer. There is no grace in not being active and fulfilled. Those who are healthy and even those who are confronted with disease or bodily injury can perform daily activities with strength, purpose and success. And if you happen to forget someone’s name or a certain noun— so what! No one else is going to remember anyway!
Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Portugal All rights reserved.
Submitted by Richard Portugal, Fitness Senior Style, LLC, 201-937-4722.