In the wizard world of Harry Potter, star student Hermione Granger casts her wand, shouts the incantation, “Oh-BLI-vee-ate!” and woosh, she obliviates a memory from someone’s mind.
It’s called the Forgetfulness or Memory Charm.
If you sometimes feel like you’re living under that spell, you’re in good company. All over the globe.
Who could blame us for being forgetful! We’ve all been a little stressed out the last few years, what with the global pandemic, job losses, crime, unnerving economy, high gas prices, skyrocketing air fares and cancellations, inflation, war in Ukraine, aging loved ones…our own aging.
A Trend of “Temporary Moments of Forgetfulness”
It turns out people of all ages are experiencing a trend of forgetfulness. Wall Street Journal reporter, Elizabeth Bernstein found that, according to memory experts, “short, temporary moments of forgetfulness are happening to more of us, more often these days.”
In her article, “Why We’re All Forgetting Things Right Now,” Bernstein explains why that is and shares some excellent tips on improving your brain health. She begins by sharing the embarrassing experience of a college professor, who, standing in front of his class, completely blanks on the name of his own teaching assistant.
A senior moment?
As Bernstein puts it, “Dr. Shields is 32 years old. He’s a memory researcher. And he was teaching a class on how stress affects cognition.”
So, there’s more proof we shouldn’t believe the ageist stereotype that forgetfulness is a predictable consequence of getting older.
Here’s Some Good News You Can Remember
Humans are resilient and so are our brains. We may have just gone through a doozy of a last few years but look! Here comes the silver lining. And this is it: Worldwide, people are talking about their brains: learning and sharing knowledge on everything from fighting dementia related diseases, to improving cognitive muscle power, to everyday emotional well-being. We’re now just as committed to brain health as we are to crunching for that six pack or holding a 10 second tree-pose.
Give your brain some love. Go buy, borrow or check out the latest best seller from renowned neurosurgeon/TV reporter, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age is reader friendly and filled with news based on the latest brain research. Dr. Gupta shares his 12 day plan for growing your mental muscle; his five pillars of a healthy brain; and he dismantles myths (and fears) you may have about your brain. Did you know…
- It’s never too late, no matter your age, to sharpen your brain.
- You can grow new brain cells and make the ones you have work more efficiently.
- Memory loss is not a ” preordained part of aging.”Taking care of your body starts with taking care of your mind.
- There is no single food, no single exercise, no single activity that can keep your brain sharp. (It’s a combo.)
- What you do in your twenties is really important to your brain. (Well past your twenties? No worries. Just reread the first three bullet points.)
- Yes, bad habits can alter your brain and your memory but you can alter those habits.
- “Clean living can slash your risk of developing serious mind destroying disorders, including Alzheimer’s…a good diet, regular exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol…can change your destiny.”
- The ancients have been documenting dementia, which isn’t just one disease, but a range, including Alzheimers, since at least 1550 BCE. And no doubt noticed it long before that.
So, while we can grin thinking about Cleopatra blanking on where she put her favorite eyeliner, we can act, now, to keep our own brains sharp and snappy.
Here with some tips from her own personal journey and tools she uses for residents at Marquis Eugene, is our own expert, certified Memory Care Administrator, Gena Young.
Gena has a warm heart for taking care of individuals in this season of life. “My love for seniors started early. I grew up in a tiny town with mostly boys running amok, so I preferred hanging out with the elderly,” she laughs.
In her job, Gena has witnessed some heroic comebacks.
“Oh yes, all the time. A dementia patient isn’t going to lose their dementia, but can the degree of that loss be altered? Certainly! There are steps we can all take to improve our brain power.”
Tip #1 Think, Learn and Listen Well
What are you thinking about? What are you listening to? What are you learning? What are you putting into your brain?
“These are good questions to ask yourself,” says Gena. “Your brain needs rest. It’s running 60 miles a minute. Your body cannot operate 24-7 and neither can your brain. So, intentionally carving out time to relax is crucial. And that doesn’t mean scrolling on your phone or computer. The goal here is quieting your thoughts.”
Gena gets a little help with an app called Calm.
“I’m a big fan of Calm. The sound of ocean waves, or in the summer, the sound of rain ¬¬–– there are so many sounds I can choose that are pleasingly repetitive and that don’t overstimulate your brain. It helps me get to sleep.”
Other sounds can jog your memory to life.
At Marquis, caregivers are skilled at using sounds – from music to TV – to create calm spaces that soothe residents, help them recall joyful memories and encourage them to join in group activities.
“Think of how our favorite songs-of-old act like time machines, transporting us back to pleasing sights, sounds and smells,” says Gena. “At Marquis, we love using music, even during our exercise sessions or during games like Name That Tune.
We had a new resident who simply wouldn’t speak — to anyone. No amount of encouragement helped.
Until one day.
She happened to be in the activities room where we were playing music and a particular song came on. We asked if anyone knew the name of the song and who was singing.
Suddenly, she shouts, ‘That’s Elvis!’ ‘That’s the song, Take My Hand!’ Then she grabbed the mic from the activities director and started singing! It was a big moment!
Residents will be in their rooms, hear music playing and come down to join us. We really go down the rabbit hole with them, asking how old they were when that song came out, where were they living, who they had a crush on. It’s fun to see them go down those avenues.
We can also trigger memories with old pictures and cooking…little treats from their youth, like cookies. The smells are powerful and get them talking about their past.
We had another lady who was very depressed and upset about having to move from her home. She slept a lot, often until noon. Somehow, we learned she used to do crossword puzzles, so we mentioned that if she got up earlier, around 7:45 in the morning, she would be the first person to get the crossword puzzle in the paper. She became one of our earliest risers.”
Gena and her team also witness the power of life-long learning.
“Every day we’re learning at Marquis and we make it fun. We have daily word searches and a theme of the day, say National Sea Turtle Day. We print out fun facts, historical moments and related puns. It really does make a difference in improving cognitive skills.
We can all feed our brains by upending our routines and mixing things up: Start a new, healthy habit, learn a new skill or language, meet new people, take another route home, write with the opposite hand, go to a new restaurant or order something you’ve never had before.”
You can also learn by helping others.
Whether it’s listening — really listening – to someone else’s challenges or volunteering, stepping outside of your own life can bring you as much joy as it does to the person you’re helping
Think about what you can teach others: Gardening? Reading? Cooking? Organizing? Building homes? Coordinating school supplies and clothes? You can bet there’s a need there. Reach out to organizations like Volunteers of America, Friends of The Children, Meals on Wheels, The Salvation Army, or Marquis’ own Vital Life Foundation, for places to help.
Tip #2 Eat, Drink and Exercise Well
Your body is talking to you. Not feeling quite right? Chances are you may need to tweak some lifestyle choices.
“My body starts talking to me and creaking a little, so I know it’s time to eat better,” says Gena. “For me that means less refined sugar and little-to-no processed foods. All that sugar creates inflation inside your body. The more you eat, the more you want. It’s horrible for your metabolism.
So instead of a breakfast muffin, which is basically a cupcake without the frosting, I’ll have a boiled egg and banana. That’s a great start to my day because I’m stimulating my metabolism. Do I miss driving with my Starbucks caramel drizzled mocha? Yes! But ultimately, I feel so much better and have a better day if I’m sipping on a drinkable yogurt instead.
A glass of wine is fine, but I find the older I get, any more than that is not fine. I just don’t feel as sharp. I drink lots of water and I’ve added supplements like fish oil. I eat foods high in natural fats like salmon and avocado. I did recently read, and with great enthusiasm may I add, that dark chocolate is your friend. It’s high in antioxidants, but again that doesn’t mean eating a whole bar of dark chocolate is okay.”
On the job, Gena and her team sit down with new residents and deep dive into their histories, finding out: What have they been eating and drinking? What combinations of medications are they taking? What doses? What are those drug interactions? Do they even need those medications? What habits might be harming their quality of life?
“Diet and vitamin supplements, for instance, have a massive impact on our brain health and memory.
We’ve had patients come to us who could not function without living in a memory care facility. They were unable to do anything for themselves. Yet, after looking into their histories and making some changes including exercise, which is a huge component in staying mentally and physically fit, we have seen some of those residents leave memory care and move into a more independent, residential care facility.
It’s so important for all of us to ask ourselves these questions about diet, medications, balance, and exercise. You may be surprised at the harm you’re unknowingly doing.”
Tip #3 Sleep Well
The importance of getting a good night’s sleep cannot be over emphasized.
Again, listen to the good doc.
In Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, Dr. Gupta says that “even the simplest creatures, including flies and worms, need to sleep. But we mammals appear to be particularly dependent on it.” He says, “Sleep is when the body heals tissues, strengthens memory and even grows. Losing sleep will have both short and long-term consequences on your health, and you cannot necessarily catch-up on sleep later on by sleeping in over the weekend or taking a long, sleepy vacation.”
So maybe before you book that vacation where you dream of dozing on the beach all day, consider investing in a good mattress instead.
Yes, it’s a bedding company, but a study by Slumber Cloud claims some interesting findings after talking with 2,000 Americans about their quality of sleep:
- The average American spends 36 years (!) in bed — sleeping or trying to get to sleep.
- Only 53 percent find their beds comfortable.
- 65 percent say they’d get more exercise if they just got a better night sleep.
Do you like your mattress but you’re still not getting enough sleep? Maybe you just need a little more planning to set yourself up for success.
Here’s an example of an ideal, nightly habit and for more, Dr. Gupta has a whole chapter on “The Need for Sleep and Relaxation.”
- You begin your bedtime process 30 minutes to one hour before bed and several hours after a healthy meal and little-to-no alcohol.
- Your screen devices are off and preferably in another room or at least out of your reach.
- You gradually lower the lights.
- You choose a quiet activity: warm bath, yoga stretches, deep breathing exercises, listening to gentle music, sipping herbal tea, reading a great book.
- And, if you’re like Gena, you turn on some sounds that help lull you to sleep.
The genius of those white noises – water flowing, birds singing, rain falling, or even a fan blowing – is they act as a gate, keeping out distracting noises and thoughts.
Finally, for family members of individuals with diagnosed, more serious cognitive decline, Gena offers this suggestion:
“I want to leave you with the word, grace. Our team encourages each family member of our residents to give themselves grace and the permission to be vulnerable during this season of life. Twenty three years ago, I took my first administrator job in retirement living and I really find that memory care is the most special. It’s such an honor to walk through this time with our residents but it’s also one of the hardest times for their families. If that’s you, I want to say, you’re doing enough. There shouldn’t be any guilt and feeling that there is more you should do. Your love and support, coupled with our trained expertise, can give your loved one a happy life. With every day comes an opportunity to smile and engage and have a good day and yes — to remember.”