In my defense, it had been a very long day following an almost completely sleepless night. Nevertheless, what happened gave me pause.
We were in a restaurant with a fairly large group and someone kept ordering wine and appetizers. It was getting late and I was getting impatient to order dinner. When Destiny, who waits on us frequently, asked if I would like another glass of wine I shook my head.
“No,” I said, “but we’re going to need to order dinner pretty soon.”
Poor Destiny was unable to disguise her horror; she looked at me as if I had grown a third eye. We had, you see, ordered dinner about five minutes earlier. I had just forgotten.
Immediately — almost — I remembered and tried to chalk up my lapse in memory to being sleep deprived. It was unsettling, though, and several weeks later I related the incident to a group of friends. Spurred by one member of the group’s failure to show up because she forgot we were meeting, we were having a discussion about our failing memories.
“That’s an interesting story,” said one member of the group as I finished telling it. “And we also found it interesting when you told it two weeks ago.”
It has since become one of our running jokes; whenever one of us exhibits memory loss — and it happens frequently — someone will say, “Patsy, tell us what happened at dinner the other night.” Usually everyone will laugh, but more than once someone has asked what happened. Seriously, we need to take minutes.
Just last night at a charity event my friend Lisa asked me if I knew the identity of a woman standing nearby. I assured her that I didn’t. About twenty minutes later, Debbie asked me about the same woman. I admitted to not knowing her just as Lisa joined us.
“Lisa, do you know that woman in the pink dress?” I inquired. She glanced over, shook her head and took a sip of her drink.
“Oh, shoot,” I said. “You just asked me if I knew her.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Lisa replied. “I did.”
See what I’m talking about?
While I’m able to laugh about it, on some level I can’t help but worry. My own medical history certainly warrants at least a little concern; I’ve actually been a guinea pig in a UT Southwestern study, my participation prompted by the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in my family. That study has concluded, but for several years I regularly submitted to rigorous neurological tests designed to show whether my cognitive abilities were diminishing. The doctors assured me at the time they were not, but that was a while back.
I decided to do a little research about what is normal and what is cause for concern when it comes to failing memory. What I learned, as you might expect, is that there are no absolutes. Generally, however, episodes of memory loss are considered normal if you can recall and describe them. “Normal, age-related memory changes” are, according to one website, responsible for these incidents.
So what can we do about normal, age-related memory changes? Interestingly, what experts advise is similar to what we’re told concerning our general health. Exercise regularly, don’t smoke, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and get plenty of sleep. Researchers are finding that walking is helpful; it seems that walking between six and nine miles weekly can prevent brain shrinkage. Drinking green tea is also good; apparently it keeps your brain from “rusting.”
Some experts recommend activities that exercise the brain, like word and number puzzles. And all this time I thought I was wasting my Saturday mornings.
I think I’ll go for a walk, have a cup of green tea and take a nap. Maybe I’ll work a puzzle. Come on, brain. Let’s do this.