Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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It’s On The Tip Of My Tongue 

As Executive Director of a non-profit youth performing arts company, with 40 to 80 children underfoot at any time, I am often asked, “how do you remember all of their names?”

As aging activists, we all face the problem of memory loss. It is right up there with hair loss in our morning coffee conversations and is always on the tip of the tongue. Sooner or later the scary question will cross our minds as we find ourselves wondering why we came into the room. Thankfully, memory loss, despite our fears, is not a pre-cursor to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it is considered normal. 

As it turns out, our hippocampus, a distribution center for new information in the brain, begins to lose cells in our mid forties. The frontal lobe of the brain begins to shrink. We have trouble with names, finding the right word, and those annoying keys and cell phones that are never where we left them. 

The goal becomes not so much improvement of skills but compensating or adjusting for the loss. Researchers find that we can improve memory but not slow down the rate of normal loss. We accept our aching backs, creaking knees and gravitational pulls. Why not our cognitive changes?

As the brain changes it takes longer to retrieve the information. Ergo the surprised look on your face when a name suddenly pops in to your head at the most unusual moment. Let’s define not normal.

A universal name such as stove or bed is not associated with an individual stove or bed. Forgetting this type of name is not normal. Same for the name of a person you have associated with your entire life, such as your mother or father. But to forget a person’s name that you have recently met is very normal. Whatshisname has little relevance other than the immediate introduction but the name aggravatingly remains on the tip of the tongue.

The time has come to cut our selves some slack and embrace the new normal. Future posts will address the what and why of normal memory loss. To learn more read the Book Review: Where Did I Leave My Glasses by Martha Weinman Lear. 

Image: Flickr/debaird™ (Creative Commons)

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