Our Memories Will Fail As We Age, Right? Wrong.

Our Memories Will Fail As We Age, Right? Wrong.

Even 20-year-olds forget the simplest things

Are you over 60 and alarmed as you find yourself forgetting things? I drove down the street yesterday and for a flashing moment, I completely forgot why I was on that street. I was going to the bank, of course, and I remembered as soon as I saw the signage. But what if I hadn’t recognized that familiar brand? Isn’t that enough reason to send me rushing off to the nearest neurologist?

Like my friends, I forget names that I used to pull up effortlessly. I misplace objects, finding them in unlikely places. And yet my long-term memories are fully intact. I remember the names of my third-grade classmates and arcane details from long ago journey or the details of a favorite meal. A friend whose husband died of Alzheimer’s told me that he lost whole decades at a time. The 90s, then the 80s. By the end, he remembered nothing. For my mother, active and healthy until her death at 94, this was her worst fear–losing her mind.

A neuroscientist in a New York Times article tells us that the problem is not necessarily age-related

Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds. It’s doing some mental gymnastics, thinking about what you’ll say next or that you’re now walking to the hall closet to get a pair of gloves.

Short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted

It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in your mental to-do list. But any distraction can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of our short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.

It may not be age but the story we tell ourselves

According to neurologist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, 20-year-olds make the same short-term memory errors that 70-year-olds do. The relevant difference is not age; rather, how we describe these events. Twenty-year-olds don’t think, “Oh dear, this must be early-onset Alzheimer’s.” They think, “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now”, or “I really need to get more than four hours of sleep.” The 70-year-old observes these same events and worries about his/her brain health.

Memory impairment is not inevitable

In the absence of brain disease, even the oldest older adults show little or no cognitive or memory decline beyond age 85 and 90, as shown in a 2018 study.

Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age

  • Our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience.
  • Older adults have to search through more memories than do younger adults to find what they’re looking for. I always think of my memory as a huge database. An older person simply has a lot more data to sort through to find the answer!

New experiences help keep your mind pliable and fresh

Dr. Levitin discusses something with which many of us can relate. He calls up a treasured childhood memory of a Butterfinger candy bar and the smell of fresh grass in the spring. “I don’t feel 50 years older. I can see the world through the eyes of that mischievous 10-year-old. I can remember when the taste of a Butterfinger was the most delectable thing in the world. I can remember the grassy smell of a spring meadow. These were sensory pleasures that were novel and exciting back then.

“I can still eat a Butterfinger and smell spring meadows, but the sensory experience has dulled through repetition, familiarity and aging. So I try to keep things novel and exciting. My favorite chocolatier introduces new artisanal chocolates a few times a year and I try to savor them. I go to new parks and forests where I’m more likely to encounter the smells of new grasses and trees.

“When I find them, these things I remember for months and years, because they are new. And experiencing new things is the best way to keep the mind young, pliable and growing — into our 80s, 90s and beyond.”

Many of our Living Trust clients are older

Many of these clients are still working, some are retired, others are thinking about it. Age-related topics such as memory loss frequently surface in our conversations about estate planning documents—especially in regard to end-of-life planning or incapacity planning.

COVID has also helped create an urgency about creating a Living Trust

As the COVID crisis drags on, more clients are scheduling appointments to create or update their Living Trusts. Our Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. It also includes a Pour Over Will, and for those families with children under 18, it means that they can name a Guardian rather than having the court appoint one for you. Creating a Trust helps provide peace of mind during these uncertain times. Best of all, we guide you through it and we prepare the legal documents.

At California Document Preparers, for most of our services, we charge one flat fee. We’re helpful, compassionate and affordable.