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Just Give Me A Minute

September 18, 2011

Brain fart.  Senior’s moment.  Absent-mindedness.  Forgetfulness.  Mild cognitive impairment.   Whatever you call it, not being able to remember something that you KNOW you know is one of the most frustrating (not to mention scary) parts of the ‘aging process’ (i.e. having more years behind you than ahead).  I can live with the wrinkles, the grey hair, the high blood pressure and cholesterol, the few added pounds – I can’t live without my … you know … that thing you use when you want to call someone by their correct name, make sure you leave for your chiropractor’s appointment on time, give your phone number to the guy who’s coming next week [or was it the week after?] to fix the leak in your roof.  What’s that called again?  Oh, yeah, my memory.

My Mind is BlankEveryone suffers the odd ‘blip’ in remembering things now and again, and there are lots and lots of reasons for it (certain medications, vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, alcohol or drug abuse, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc.).  But with each year that I add to my age, I find those ‘blips’ are becoming more and more common, and considerably more frustrating.  For example, as I was writing the last sentence, I knew I had – deep in my brain – a better word than ‘much’ to describe the frustration of not being able to remember something.  It was right there – a little foggy but ‘there’ – yet I couldn’t quite grasp it.  This happens with alarming frequency, and as a writer I find it most disconcerting.  I usually end up just putting in the ‘simpler’ word and using the thesaurus to try to expose the ‘better’ one. If that doesn’t work, I cross my fingers and hope that the elusive word will appear during one of the many read-throughs and edits that any piece of writing undergoes.  Occasionally the ‘perfect word’ escapes me altogether and some alternate ends up in its place (whereupon – miraculously – the day after a piece is published, I see the EXACT WORD I WAS LOOKING FOR in something else I’m reading; it never fails!)

Plymouth ProwlerEqually (or perhaps more) aggravating is when I attempt to tell a story and the name of something (a person, place, or thing) that is vital to the tale vanishes just as I open my mouth to say it.  The other day I was telling my husband about a half a dozen custom cars I’d seen driving through town.  They were all the same type of car, but each was a different, vibrant colour.  The problem was I couldn’t – for the life of me – remember the name of the particular make and model.  I knew it; I knew I knew it, but it was GONE.  I tried describing it as best I could (“you know, those neat old-fashioned looking open-wheeled cars that were purple when they came out around ten years ago”) and finally just left it at that. Two days later, we were sitting on the deck enjoying a drink before dinner when I blurted out ‘Prowler’. My husband looked at me like I’d lost my mind – until I explained that the cars I’d seen earlier in the week had been Plymouth Prowlers. Mystery solved (although my sanity may still be in question). 

Hey SailorMy 93 year old mother recently confided to me that she was worried because she hadn’t been able to recall if I’d said I was going to visit her at nine or ten o’clock that day; she then added that she’d also (briefly) forgotten the cat’s name the day before.  I reassured her that what she was experiencing wasn’t anything to worry about – because most weeks I have a hard time remembering what DAY it is (never mind what time I have to do something) and I regularly forget the cat’s name (I just call her ‘Cat’ when that happens; forgetting my husband’s name is a little more serious, although I think he gets a kick out of it when I address him as ‘Hey sailor …’).

Overworked BrainPersonally, I think a big part of the problem with our memories is that there is just so much to remember, our brains are overworked.  With each year we live, we have to cram significantly more ‘stuff’ into our brains.  And while it is said that the human brain can store at least several terabytes* (some say several THOUSAND terabytes) of information (if we think of the brain in terms of computer storage), it isn’t nearly as easy to perform a ‘search’ for the correct name, term, or word in our minds as it is on a computer (where, exactly, is our brain’s ‘Search’ function located, anyway?!?!?)  And speaking of computers (and technology in general), they’ve certainly contributed to the problem – now we have to recall cell phone numbers, at least a half a dozen PINs, and the instructions for all those programs and devices that we use every day.  And while some pundits have said that tools like Google have relieved us from a great many memory tasks (since we can access information instantaneously whenever we need it [vs. having to remember it] and even store volumes of data ‘in the cloud’), I would disagree – because every single time I undertake some research project, I find so many pages full of really neat information, I end up just naturally cramming a lot of it into my already-overcrowded brain. 

*A terabyte is roughly one trillion bytes of information (think of one byte as one character, letter, or symbol).  A single terabyte could hold about 3.6 million large digital images, 300 hours of high quality video, or 1,000 copies of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ten terabytes could hold the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress (that’s a LOT of data!)

Brain ConnectionsWith 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapse connections firing continuously in our brains, it’s no wonder some things simply get ‘lost’ (and what’s with the stuff we don’t ‘need’ to remember that just sort of comes out of nowhere? Last week, for example, I heard Clint Eastwood’s name mentioned on TV – immediately my brain went “Clint Eastwood;  Rowdy Yates on Rawhide; the trail boss’s name was Gil Favor.” I mean – that show [Rawhide] was on almost 50 years ago and I haven’t thought about it in almost as much time – so why on earth would I REMEMBER all that?!?!?!?)  And wouldn’t it be great to have a ‘defrag’ program for our brain? [For those of you who don’t know what a ‘defragmentation’ program is, it’s a utility that reorganizes the memory storage units in a computer’s hard drive to better allocate storage space – sort of like when you organize your sock drawer or the kitchen pantry to free up space for more stuff.]  I know I’d certainly benefit from a more organized system for storing and retrieving memories – maybe I’d get things straight (and in a timely fashion) more often!

Despite the almost alarming frequency with which I ‘forget’ things (or can’t remember them), I’m not (too) worried about early-onset Alzheimer’s, or dementia (at least, not yet).  For the time being, I’ll just accept these episodes of minor memory loss as ‘normal’ and try – as much as possible – to learn to live with them.  Because while they’re annoying, and frustrating, I know they’re just part of being on (no … wait … I’ll get it … just give me a minute) … the other side of 55.

Elephants Never Forget

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14 Comments
  1. September 21, 2011 10:23 am

    If it’s any consolation, I am constantly unable to find words and must describe them in a very roundabout way, and I’m 22.

    • September 21, 2011 10:42 am

      Maybe that’s a ‘built in’ method to force us to find better/alternate ways of saying things (so we don’t automatically use the same words/phrases/descriptions over and over again!) Glad it’s not ‘just’ age-related!

      Margo

  2. September 19, 2011 7:15 pm

    You really said it all so well. What I found amazing when reading this post is how much information you actually gave us…my brain just couldn’t take it all in and did what it usually does when I read something very interesting, immediately forget the details as soon as I’ve finished reading the item. Sorry ’bout that. 🙂

    • September 20, 2011 12:33 pm

      So much information … so little brain space (left) at our age. LOL

      Margo

  3. September 19, 2011 9:07 am

    You know, I was going to respond with some witty comment, but for some reason I can’t remember what I was going to say… I’m sure it’s all due to the sheer volume of stuff we are subjected to on a daily basis. We do seem to live a far more complex life, full of stimuli in greater volume than any other generation, and I’m sure the mind takes it in and files it away. It’s the indexing and retrieval mechanism that is a bit shady. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it – that is, until I forget what I just said.

    • September 19, 2011 12:26 pm

      I don’t think it’s even possible to take in the volume of information that assails us every day. It’s no wonder we forget the ‘simple stuff’.

      Margo

  4. September 19, 2011 7:25 am

    I wish I could learn songs and poems like I used to. If I didn’t learn them by age 30, I’m left to read the karaoke screen of the computer if I want to sing along. Not very practical at a party…unless it’s exactly that, a karaoke party.

    • September 19, 2011 8:51 am

      I know exactly what you are saying. I STILL remember some of the poems we had to memorize in grade school, but I forget anything I hear/read now within about 5 minutes. I need karaoke ‘cheat cards’ for everything!

      Margo

  5. Sharon permalink
    September 19, 2011 5:39 am

    I totally know how you feel. I so feel like an idiot when I hit that “blank” spot during a conversation. The word I need was there when I started the sentence and then flies away into a black hole or something. Drives me nuts. As to writing something down when I think of it, I either lose the note or sometimes, when I see it the next time, can’t remember why I wrote that down. DUH!

    • September 19, 2011 8:52 am

      I typed up a title for a great blog entry I was going to write several weeks (months?) ago – and when I looked at it the other day I had absolutely NO IDEA what it meant. Sigh!

      Margo

  6. September 18, 2011 11:43 pm

    I read a statistic somewhere (but can’t remember where I saw it) that compared how much information a modern person is expected to process in, say a year, compared to what our ancestors processed in an entire lifetime. The statistic suggested that much of what we perceive as memory lapses can be attributed to the fact that we just have way too much information to process in too short a time period. I like to say that my hard drive is full….

    • September 19, 2011 8:54 am

      My hard drive is definately full and I feel like I have several ‘external’ drives (journals, computers, bits and pieces of paper, my husband …) that are overflowing as well. Unfortunately, you can’t delete files in your brain the way you can on a computer (otherwise we could just get rid of all those memories of us wearing mini skirts and bellbottoms!)

      Margo

  7. September 18, 2011 9:53 pm

    Great post. Just ONE HOUR ago, I had a terrific idea for my blog about Aging… and now I can’t remember what it was! I am hoping it will come back to me tomorrow….but just 60 minutes ago it was a fabulous idea.

    • September 18, 2011 10:19 pm

      Boy, can I relate to that!!! I often get an idea, think briefly, “I should write that down”, but don’t, and then – shortly thereafter – realize the idea is completely and utterly GONE from my memory (of course, if I’d written it down, I would likely have misplaced the paper I wrote it on!)

      Margo

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