Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Forgetful Is The New Normal

I was talking to whatsisname the other day. You remember, the one we met last week over at watchamacallit? I know I wrote that name down somewhere. Now, where did I leave my glasses?

Does this conversation sound familiar? Welcome to the wonderful world of aging and memory loss. I could argue that my grandkids forget their homework, lunches and jackets on a regular basis and they are not out of their teens. Or that my two-year-old granddaughters remember and repeat every word I say, despite their diminutive size and lack of schooling. But it really is of little comfort, so why go there?

What you really want to know is if it is normal or the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Try as you might, dark thoughts creep up when you can’t find your keys…again. And they especially weigh heavily on your mind, when you forget a name knowing it is on the tip of your tongue.

Well, guess what? It’s normal. At least according to the band of experts, Martha Weinman Lear interviewed for her book, “Where Did I Leave My Glasses?” Her interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists and evolutionary biologists form a backdrop for insights into the frustrating problems with memory we all experience as we age. The anecdotes are poignantly real and hilarious; as Lear reassures the reader we are all in this together. Lear provides information about this normal aging process, empowering the reader to embrace rather than fear memory loss. The book talks about the 57 Heinz varieties of memory and why there are some things you will never forget.

For instance, we all know the name, stove. It is a piece of equipment in the kitchen that we use to cook our food. It doesn’t matter how many different brands, models or types. It is still a stove. But people claim a different and unique name for every individual. That adds up to quite a few names to remember.

We grab onto any lifesaver as we drown in those awkward moments. We invent games and rhymes, like counting down through the 26 letters of the alphabet. Later, inexplicably, the name will come rushing forcefully to the surface at the most inopportune moment.

The good news is that all of this is normal memory loss. Of course, the bad news is it is part of the aging process, universal and irreversible. If you must blame something, then blame it on the hippocampus, the area of the brain that receives and distributes information. As we reach age 30, it begins to shrink. By 40, we begin to notice the loss. This doesn’t mean the information that was once at our fingertips and has slowly moved to the tip of our tongue is now lost. It means, like the rest of our body, it is moving a little slower. It takes longer to sift through all the data, retrieve it and send it. Ergo, you find yourself popping out the name in the middle of dinner, or at a party. That seemingly elusive name finally made it back up to the top.

Lear points out the evidence of what is normal and what is not but also details “that holy quartet of imperatives that the memory experts keep touting: a healthy diet, a good night’s rest, avoidance of stress, and regular exercise both physical and mental.” Although these imperatives will not restore or change the decline, they can help with attitude and the ability to adjust to the changes in memory, as we do for arthritis or the other aches and pains that signal things “ain’t what they used to be.”

Forgetting someone’s name is normal. Forgetting the name of your mother or your father is not. Forgetting to occasionally turn the stove off is normal. Forgetting what a stove is, is not. It is a comfort to me to know that so many of us share the malady of memory loss and I can find humor in the awkward moments. Memory loss cares little for race, gender, color or religion. It is reduced to a common denominator - age. So stop looking for the paper with old whatsisname and I am sure your glasses will show up on top of your head. That’s what a wise grandma would do…if only she could remember why she came into the room.



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    Eularee Smith • Writer & Educator in Eugene, Oregon - Blog - Forgetful Is The New Normal

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