Getting older is for everyone but does memory loss need to be?

Protecting and improving my memory

Let me get right to the point.

I’m concerned about my neurological health. My brain generally, my memory specifically. Or lack of memory if you want to go even deeper.

I notice something missing each day. A void. An empty space where a memory or a piece of information once existed.

I’m 44 years old. I believe I have above average intelligence. I am healthy. Yet, I appear to be slipping. Is this normal? Is this the age for cognitive ability to slow? What is normal? Am I really slipping or am I putting too much pressure on myself?

I should also mention I am adopted. I don’t have a family medical history. I don’t know if dementia runs in my family. I’m a blank slate.

Recently while watching TV I put on the film “300.” The scene featured the actress who plays Cersei in Game of Thrones and a male actor from The Wire.

“That guy was in The Wire,” I said to my partner Astrid. Then I realized I could recall neither his name nor the name of his character. I could see him in several scenes. I knew his story arc.  I could remember specific scenes including random detail in those scenes.  I couldn’t remember his name.

When all else fails, Google

I did what I do more and more often when this type of thing occurs. I Googled.

He’s the first one the search engine spat out. Dominic West is his name. Jimmy McNulty is his character. Did I give up too soon? Should I have continued to draw the name from the corners of my grey matter? Perhaps I have ceded bits of information to Google. If I have given away pieces of information because I know I can easily access the information on my phone or computer, what am I doing with that free space? Is it full of new stuff?

I heard a song on the radio. Female singer. Hard rock edge. I didn’t know the song, but I thought it reminded me of the band that played Soundwave (an Australian hard rock music festival) a few years ago.

I could remember a lot of things about the band.

It’s the band who opened for Lenny Kravitz. The band with the singer, Hayley. Hayley who the radio station I work for interviewed three years ago. We were told no questions about Hayley’s boyfriends or her hair colour. I can remember all of those minor things, but I had to work to recall Hayley’s band’s name.

After several minutes of clawing through the blank space that once contained the band name, “Paramour” bubbled to the surface.

I just Googled it to ensure I was correct. I am, but it is spelled Paramore.

Conor Who?

Here’s another example of the gaps I’m talking about.

I couldn’t remember UFC Champ Conor McGregor’s last name the other day. I could remember his recent quote, “The double champ does what in the f*** he wants,” but I couldn’t remember his last name. That may seem inconsequential to you, but I narrate a weekly television show that features Conor in almost every episode. It was an unnatural pause in my recall ability. And I didn’t like it.

Sometimes I lose a word mid-sentence. It results in a brief interruption in my speech as I search for the right word or phrase to complete my thought. I often have these moments of absence and when I do, I recognize them.

What happens when I no longer recognize them?

I know those examples are minor and probably routine. I’m not forgetting how to get dressed in the morning or the names of my family members. But what I wonder is this, people at the extreme end of the dementia spectrum didn’t start there. Did they notice? Could they have done anything differently?

Dementia isn’t in everyone’s future

Thank goodness for that.

Getting older; however, is. Think about this. In the time it took you to read this blog, you have aged.

I’m going to investigate tests to gauge my memory. I’m going to explore ways to improve my memory. I hope to get a better understanding of what is going on before I reach that time when I no longer recognize the gaps or absences. I also want to explore the relationship between technology and perceived memory loss. I think some of what I’m noticing is because I lean on that electronic crutch.

Crutches are a physical item. They are meant to assist an individual through a time of weakness in order for the person to become strong enough to stand on her own. Eventually she will cast aside her crutch and walk. These “smart crutches” aren’t going anywhere. Sticking with the crutch metaphor, the smart phone doesn’t want to help you strengthen your leg so you can walk properly, it wants to be your leg and do the walking for you.

In this space I will share what I learn with you. I will share the results of my tests, my experiments and my research. I also want to hear your stories. What are you experiencing? Does anything work for you? What hasn’t worked? Follow me on Twitter and let me know.

As a society we put a great deal of emphasis on our physical health and our outward appearance. I once trained for an Ironman Triathlon. During peak training periods I spent up to 25 hours a week preparing my body for the event. I don’t think I need to spend 25 hours a week on my brain, but I do think I need to spend more than I currently do.

Jay Mueller

Jay Mueller is a journalist and radio producer based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter @bad_producer. Send him an email jay.mueller@badproducerproductions.com

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