Is it your age, or the pandemic?
(No. 40) Many people seem to be losing their ability to remember by Stephen P. Williams
But first, this: the average American begins to feel old at age 47. What’s your “I feel old” age? Will you ever hit it?
Worried about brain health? Join the club
Photo by David Matos on UnsplashPhoto
About 50 percent of Americans worry about brain health, according to a recent survey. And the rate is higher among older people, many of whom report daily memory issues, from forgetting a name to forgetting where they live.
One tiny group of people with what is called HSAM (highly superior autobiographical memory), would seem blessedly able to avoid these worries. People with HSAM remember every moment of their personal lives, from the dress they wore to the prom to their most recent cross country road trip. They remember dates, colors, smells, people and conversations as though they were unscrolling in their minds. While this sounds great, it can also lead to heightened anxiety, and even anguish, as the HSAM people recall difficult moments from their lives in perfect detail, unable to let the past live in the past.
So it’s comforting, in a way, to learn that even these people are having memory issues during the pandemic. People with HSAM are forgetting a lot these days, especially those who have isolated themselves to avoid spreading or being infected by the virus. Apparently, memory functions best with clear markers of the passage of time, and lockdowns, social isolation and other pandemic effects are toying with our regular reminders of what has happened.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal reports that Nicole Donohue, a teacher who is one of the roughly 70 people in the US who have HSAM, can tell you everything that happened to her on March 6 of this year, as people were getting accustomed to shelter in place rules. She taught the westward expansion in her class. She wondered about spring break. She ate a croissant from Trader Joe’s.
However, she remembers nothing about April 6, when she and everyone around her were consumed with flattening the curve. She’d been isolated and social distancing, The Journal reports. For her, losing her total memory recall was almost a blessing, because she no longer felt burdened by all the snippets of the sometimes painful memories that had plagued her before. But for many others, especially those of us who are north of 60, the pandemic has unleashed worries about memory and brain function.
This is especially true for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers, families and friends. Just look at this statement from a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, UK:
“Lockdown isolation causes shocking levels of decline for people with dementia, who are rapidly losing memory, speech, and ability to dress and feed themselves.”
Apparently, regular social stimulation helps people with Alzheimer’s to center themselves and their memories. Much of this stimulation has been lost during lockdowns and periods of isolation. Alzheimer’s patients routines and medical care are severely disrupted, especially if they live in nursing homes.
For all of us, young and old, with and without dementia, levels of depression and anxiety have risen during the pandemic. Both of these mental states are linked to poorer memory. Plus, people who work at home often spend their days in similar looking online meetings, which offer little variety and few “anchors” for navigating memories.
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash
Here are some tips for challenging your mind during this pandemic in ways that might exercise and improve your memory, especially as you age. Go outside and walk unfamiliar routes without the aid of your phone navigation app. During the day, or at night before bed, reflect on what happened during the day, writing down the key points. This will stimulate your memory centers. And before you leave the house to buy things, imagine where each item is in the store. That way, these memories will be more likely to pop up when you arrive, and you’ll remember what’s on your list.
Most of all, give yourself a break. These pandemic days are tough. Take comfort in being realistic about yourself.
I like his hat (and the song)
More news for the young at heart
Balance your macros according to your age
Don’t just cut certain foods out in an attempt to eat healthfully, say University of Sydney, Australia researchers, balance your foods instead. The researchers found that the best approach to diet involved tracking macronutrients -- fat, carbohydrates, protein -- and finding the right balance to suit your age. For instance, say the researchers, those over 55 should emphasize healthy carbohydrates over fat and protein.
The end of aging?
Israeli scientists use oxygen therapy to lengthen telomeres, which are key indicators of aging.
Get some sun
Vitamin D is crucial for your immune system (it’s even said to help reduce the symptoms of COVID-19), and other body systems. In winter, we often don’t get enough sunlight to trigger vitamin D production in our bodies. So be sure to take a supplement if you can’t get out in the light.
The city of Trieste, Italy, has figured out an effective way to make older people and women more comfortable sunning at the beach.
I’ve been working hard and not taking such great care of my body the last couple of months. Since I’m 62, that neglect is making itself apparent. Yesterday I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and today my blood lipid profile came back: cholesterol rising. I’m taking antibiotics for the former, and adopting a vegan plus fish diet for the latter (it’s worked wonders before). Just another example of how quickly our houses of cards can collapse. I hope to rebuild this one quickly.
Selfie, by self. 11/21/20 Just finished writing this newsletter.
Glad that you are part of Age: The Next Everything. Over a thousand people now subscribe to this newsletter, and I hope that we just keep growing.
Let me know if you have any thoughts about the newsletter, or topics you’d like me to explore. Stephen