Senior Moments?…Or Something More…?
Stopping at the top of the stairs because you forgot what you were going up there for or drawing a blank trying to remember the name of a favorite actor you recognize in a new movie…hey, who hasn’t been there, right? In our 30’s, most of these episodes can be traced back to lack of sleep or just plain old stress. As we advance in years, most of us will experience these senior moments more often. Since it’s a natural part of aging, we laugh with each other and chalk it up to getting older. But in the back of our minds is the nagging question of whether what we’re experiencing really is normal.
Fear of abnormal memory loss is a common concern for those of us over 55 years old because it is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, next to cancer Alzheimer’s is the most feared disease in America. And although public awareness of Alzheimer’s and related dementias continues to grow, the general public still remains pretty uninformed. This ignorance combined with misportrayals by the media of how people with this disease behave has fueled false anxiety and fear and made it easier for people to jump to conclusions when they misplaced their keys for the second time that week.
Knowing how things change, physically and mentally, as we age can keep our fears in check. As our bodies slow down when we get older, our brains slow down as well. According to Eric Braverman, MD and author of Younger Brain, Sharper Mind, we lose seven to 10 milliseconds – that’s a tenth of a second — of brain speed per decade from age 20 on. Aging itself alone causes us to lose brain cells and processing speed. This small change is very difficult to notice because aging occurs at a constant rate.
So, tracking the natural slowing in our brain speed isn’t something we can even practically do, but we can see this change manifest in those “senior moments” we all know all too well.
Getting older means it will take longer to recall memories, like the name of an acquaintance or where you put your keys. It will also take longer to process new information, like learning all the apps and shortcuts on your new smart phone. Dr. Braverman also says, “What’s more, not only does an aging brain think slower, but there is a separation between thinking and then doing. You know that you have things you need to do, but you can’t quite figure out how to get them done, or you forget to take care of them.” While these mental lapses are an annoyance and inconvenience, they are normal and happen to all of us as we age.
Please know that real memory loss and thinking issues should not be ignored or excused away. There is a difference in not remembering your ATM pin number that one time, and not remembering how to pay for something altogether. If you are having real concerns about yourself or family member please talk to a trusted doctor about getting tested to see what is causing the memory or thinking issues.
Take heart, it is not all “downhill” as we get older! We do become wiser and get better at making decisions and judgment calls. All those years of experience are irreplaceable. Also, research shows (see the link below) that older people tend to find greater happiness and less stress than younger adults still figuring things out in their 30’s and 40’s.