It’s normal as we age to experience some memory loss. This is due to decreases in neurotransmitters or the chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. Generally these kinds of changes don’t affect daily functioning or the ability to live independently. In people who experience Alzheimer’s disease, these decreases are significant and injurious to brain function. For the purpose of this discussion we are NOT talking about the latter kind of devastating losses.
People of all ages experience momentary memory loss and many, even those who are not senior citizens, refer to these lapses laughingly as ‘senior moments’ or “brain farts” or “spacing out’ or having a “blond moment.” Many jokes are made and sometimes the humor exists to mask our terror when we head into the next room and get there only to forget what we were going to do. Or how about paying for a purchase and walking out of the store without it. Been there, done that!
The brain actually uses forgetfulness as a way to avoid confusion and to inhibit cognitive overload. It is selective and remembers more important information and sets aside similar and less-used information. Forgetfulness, if viewed from this perspective, is therefore beneficial, and a sign of proper brain functioning. But why do we experience these kinds of lapses at all?
There are lots of reasons for experiencing a blank in memory. The cause of senior moments can be found in fatigue, stress, medication interference, and extensive multi-tasking. Sometimes women experience more lapses when they are pregnant. It is reported that anemia and thyroid disease can also affect temporary memory loss.
But I’m not stressed or tired or pregnant. What’s MY excuse? As long as the lapse is temporary and not more debilitating as mentioned at the beginning of this piece, my answer to this question is “Lighten up.” One little episode of forgetfulness and we’re ready to schedule an MRI to check our brain function. My tendency is to laugh and make a joke when I’m with others but, in actuality, the less fuss I make about it, the faster it is I remember what I was going to do or say.
There are a few tips to reduce the incidence of senior moments if they’re bothering you:
– Try to do just one thing at a time.
– Be sure to get enough sleep and maintain a healthy diet.
– If you’re stressed, develop some management techniques (check out
– Reduce your need to multi-task, if possible.
– Quit relying on just your memory and use some of those excellent
electronics that keep track of dates and act as personal digital
– Replay memories in your mind to reinforce them.
– When trying to commit something to memory take it in with all your
senses. Notice how things smell and feel as well as how they look.
I think there are life lessons to be learned in this discussion of senior moments. I say let’s have ‘em! Let’s experience as many of them as we need in order to get the message to slow down and smell the flowers. Let’s not be embarrassed when we do something silly like trying to remember where we parked the car at the mall. Let’s create a place where we have the luxury to do one thing at a time. For those of us who are retired, we’re done being show offs, multi-tasking our little hearts out and showing we can manage a myriad of tasks simultaneously. There’s a bigger bonus awaiting us when we take more time and that bonus is joy, the kind of joy that appears when we look out into world and see, really see, something different than before.
Learn to see memory lapses as a gift; a pause to take a break and enjoy what’s happening around your; a reminder to be present in the moment.