The Voice of Experience: As we age, get comfortable with forgetting

Web Lead

Several years ago I facilitated a course for seniors entitled “Lost your marbles? Or just your memory?” There may be a few people who still remember it! The intent of the course was to help us all feel more comfortable about forgetting, rather than getting all upset and embarrassed. And we had a lot of laughs, too. Here are a few of the things we learned — a mini refresher course!

•What is memory? All of our knowledge from Day 1, records of emotions and feelings, how-to skills, records of sensory perceptions — all packed into the filing cabinet/computer of the left brain.

•When we forget, we tend to blame ourselves. It’s really important to keep ourselves from letting forgetfulness eat away at our self-confidence. Laughter, even when forced, tends to suppress the flow of adrenaline that happens when we are embarrassed.

•Lists free our memory, help us organize our time, rehearse information, help us pay attention to what we want to remember. And using yellow paper to list things on in easier to see in case we misplace it.

•Why we forget: Heads would burst with useless information if we didn’t forget, so much forgetting is necessary. Doesn’t that make us feel better?

•Remember, each of us is a unique person. Society tends to stereotype “middle-aged”, the “elderly” and “senior citizens” but we are not all the same. We don’t have to be set in our ways, forgetful or absentminded. Ability and interest to not turn off at 55! Memory changes do occur, but at different ages, rates and intensities — very individual.

•Changing pace is also very individual, both physically and mentally. We do slow down but at no specific time. We can still do many of the things we have always done — it just takes longer. Forgetting can be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean we’re falling apart. We avoid wasted energy when we accept the slowing down process; it allows us time to stop and smell the roses!

•Mental powers, like the muscles of the body, need exercising. They can be developed and strengthened, or they can simply atrophy and die for want of use.

•”Senility” is a catchword used to label any eccentric behaviour in an older person. Since the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, reinforcing the idea of senility will tell the subconscious that we really are senile!

•Speed of reaction and recognition often slows, but older people are often better at problem solving, reasoning and vocabulary than younger ones.

•The capacity to learn does not decrease with age, but mood, self-confidence and desire deeply affect the ability to learn. Older people are more selective in learning than younger people, since we are perhaps more interested in conserving energy and dwelling on what is interesting, useful and pleasurable. Saying, “I can’t learn,” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t overload, take your time, take breaks, ask questions.

•Keep a positive attitude. It helps supply energy for remembering. Let go, relax, take the pressure off. Taking more control over our lives is important at any age, and keeping control is even more important as we grow older.

•Self-worth and self-acceptance — accept weaknesses, as well as strengths. Accept yourself as an individual. Self-worth controls outlook on life and affects memory. Be good to yourself. Put things in perspective. Find alternatives. Grow, search, change and laugh!

There is so much more, but there’s only so much space in this column, so we’ll call it quits for now. Love life to its fullest and give yourself lots of new memories!

Mary Underhill is a stress therapist and grief counsellor. The Voice of Experience is a column co-ordinated by the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.