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Health Advantage to Short Term Memory Loss?

Posted Dec 28 2009 2:35am

[Dick Klade, who blogs at Gabby Geezer, has added his photo to the Where Elders Blog feature. You can see it here.]

A month or so ago, curious about how much she moves around in a day, Crabby Old Lady attached her pedometer one morning and was surprised, at bedtime, to find she had walked just over two miles without leaving the house. Two miles! And it wasn't even a particularly busy day. Here are two of the reasons:

Wanting a cup of tea, Crabby got up from her desk in the front of her home meaning to pick up, on her way to the kitchen in the back of the house, a magazine she had left in the bedroom. As she set the water to boil, she realized she had forgotten the magazine, so she walked halfway back toward her office to the bedroom, got the magazine, returned to the kitchen, made the tea and walked back to her office where she remembered that she had left the magazine in the kitchen.

So it was back to the kitchen, the full length of Crabby's home, and then a return to the office having walked two-and-a-half times as far as she would have if her memory hadn't failed – twice in the space of ten minutes.

Later in the afternoon, Crabby went downstairs to pick up the day's mail. While on the porch, she heard her neighbor call out, so she crossed the street for a ten-minute chat, then climbed the stairs back home. Settled again at her desk, she realized she had forgotten the mail. Down the stairs she went again, and back up.

If you are as old as Crabby Old Lady is – even younger, perhaps, and older too – you know the drill: you find yourself standing in the bedroom or kitchen or elsewhere in the house wondering, as if just wakened from a dream, why. There must a reason you interrupted reading the novel that deeply engaged you or left the pile of laundry you were folding. But it won't come to mind. Similar memory glitches happen away from home too.

Last week, there were three last-minute grocery items Crabby needed. Only one could be purchased at the local deli a few blocks away, so she drove to the supermarket where she could get all three in one place. Of course, her memory being the sieve that it is, she could recall only two of the items and the third did not come to mind again until she had returned home and saw the baking equipment on the counter.

(It is a mysterious phenomenon that while Crabby can remember the number of items she needs at the store, when one or more disappear from her mind, she easily convinces herself that a forgotten item is not important – until she gets home.)

Fortunately that day, the missing item was the heavy cream she needed for the onion tarte which is available at the deli – a nice seven-block walk each way (even in cold weather when she bundles up) and, with a bit of wandering to see Christmas decorations in the neighborhood, she put a mile-and-a-half on her pedometer.

Short-term memory problems are an annoying accompaniment to getting old. No matter how much Crabby tells herself that she has always had such incidents as forgetting the reason she walked into a room, she knows it happens more frequently now. She likes to blame it on her life-long, daily to-do lists thereby depriving her memory of regular workouts, but that's just an excuse. Old is old and things go wrong (although Crabby is grateful that she, so far, is mostly free of age-related conditions).

Nevertheless, it makes Crabby crabbier than usual to spend increasing amounts of time repeating herself to make up for her forgetfulness and contrary to what you might think, Crabby doesn't enjoy being crabby – at least, not on personal matters.

Then Crabby had a moment of insight: perhaps the at-home pedometer experiment had revealed an opportunity.

What if, Crabby mused, she turned her annoyance on its head and viewed the repeated walking around her home and neighborhood as a chance for a little more exercise? With a slight attitude shift, her memory malfunctions would become useful, a health benefit, and she would be relieved of serial irritation with herself too.

These thoughts led to the fanciful notion that if Crabby were not indoctrinated by a youth-centric culture to see the vicissitudes of age as a bummer, she would find advantage in them - when one door closes, another opens, as business gurus like to preach.

So now when Crabby's memory seizes up, she welcomes the chance to get off her butt for awhile, and she is busily exploring what other age-related lemons she can turn into lemonade.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: An Original Christmas Song

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