These words are being typed in the waiting room of my local Meineke while I am waiting for necessary repairs on my 9-year-old Jeep Patriot. Purchased for cash back in 2011, after my mother left me an inheritance, I have taken good care of my vehicle which has taken me to Canada twice, to local destinations, to my various offices where I have seen clients, and on recreational journeys. My son keeps asking me why I don’t trade it in for an environmentally friendlier hybrid or electric car. He knows what a tree hugger his mother is and I tell him that I like not having a car payment and I want to maintain and sustain this one for as long as possible.
I see that as an analogy for my mind. I have had it a lot longer than nine years; 58 of them, in fact. There are times when it requires attention and maintenance as well. These days, I don’t wait until my mental “check engine light” comes on to take note to the messages it might be sending me.
When I was growing up, my mother used to say, as she aged, that her mind was like a sieve. I envisioned our blue and white colander through which she strained pasta or rinsed lettuce taking up space in her cranium as the thoughts leaked through the holes. I smile as I recall those conversations that would occur when she would forget something seemingly simple. I swore it would never happen to me, since I believed that we are as only old as we feel.
The question that I am faced with: what is the truth vs. myth about age related memory blips? According to an article presented by Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are good reasons to believe that there are actions and interventions we can take to preserve the mental reserves. Depression, excessive alcohol consumption, having too much to do and insufficient time to complete tasks, as well as stress are contributing factors.
In the case of this multi-tasking “professional hyphenate” (social worker-journalist-minister-editor-speaker), I notice lower acuity when I am attempting to keep too many plates spinning simultaneously. On any given day, it might look like appointments with clients, being interviewed on a podcast, writing an article, editing a book, going to the gym and waiting for my car to be made road worthy. To successfully execute each of these tasks, I first need to write them in my appointment book and then check them off once they have been completed.
Other areas that call for mindfulness include destinations. Recently, I was driving to one of the offices where I see clients and found myself (or lost myself) in a momentary state of distraction. I missed a turn and for more than an alarming split second, I had no clue where I was. Taking a deep breath and with an eye on the clock, I called my office to let the receptionist know that I was running late and wanted to have him let my first-time client who was coming for an intake, know as well. Of course, when he answered the phone, he put me on hold since he was on another call. Taking a deep breath, I pulled out my GPS and plugged in the address. Its brain was higher functioning than mine at that moment, so it knew exactly where I needed to go. I hung up and called a second time…put on hold again. The clock was ticking and I could feel my heart racing and adrenalin pumping, which was not the state I wanted to be in to greet a new client who was likely expecting someone far calmer than I was feeling in the moment. Third time was the charm, as I reached the receptionist who informed me that my client had rescheduled since SHE was lost and running late. Fortunately, my cortisol levels eased up, as did my heart rate and blood pressure.
This was not the first time, I experienced brain fog or displacement of my sense of direction. I joke about it and say that I attribute it to my middle age moments; or wise woman moments, since allegedly, the older we get, the wiser we get. I add that the hard drive gets full and the problem isn’t storage, but rather, retrieval. It sometimes takes the form of recalling names. As a speaker, I encounter people daily whose names I want to remember. There have been deer caught in a headlight moments when someone has just told me their name and it slipped out of my consciousness as surely as water trickling through a closed fist. I have had to laugh and attribute it to those wise woman brain blips that I referenced earlier. When I have been with a friend and see someone approaching who I know, but their name escapes me, I have said to my companion, “Please introduce yourself to them first, so I can hear their name.” It is an adaptive device that I have used for at least 10 years. If I am by myself, I have admitted that I am at a loss and ask them their name and how I know them. Their laughter generally accompanies mine, particularly if they are around my age.
How to Fill in the Gaps
- Refrain from or reduce use of alcohol
- Take frequent breaks when working if possible to reset your brain
- Practice memorization skills
- Drink plenty of water
- Self-talk and re-direction. Say aloud what you want to remember: I remind myself that I have my keys, purse, cell phone AND brain, when I leave the house
- Pre-event rehearsal. I think about what I need to do on any given day.
- Eat nutrient rich foods such as kale, blueberries and beets.
- Remain as calm as possible, since it is likely that in frustration, memories are less likely to be at the ready.
- Use mnemonic devices such as relating a person’s name to a quality they possess.
Use of these techniques may be helpful in preventing our minds from “slip sliding away.”