Thursday, June 5, 2008
Improvements in health care and lifestyles mean that more of us are living longer than ever before. But with that bonus of extra years also comes worries for many of us about the natural reductions in our abilities that occur as we age.
Most of us can accept that our physical abilities decline with age, even beginning at a fairly young age (yes, you're only 41, but your teenage son will probably outrun you). What remains a source of stress is that our mental abilities will also diminish as we get older.
The most immediate sign of the apparent "decline" is when we find we can't remember things. Whether we're 35 or 65, when we begin to notice lessened memory power, it's often stressful and possibly frightening. I know! This is the situation my mother is in.
The reality, of course, is that we all forget things, regardless of our age. As a teenager there were homework assignments or promises to parents that slipped out of your mind just as easily as the name of that colleague your saw at lunch yesterday. The difference is that back then you thought it no big deal, while now you're sure it's a sign that old age has you in its grips.
Experts say that for most people the decline in memory is actually very gradual and usually isn't obvious until age 70 or later. And simple memory loss is not necessarily a sign of dementia. While dementia does cause memory loss, it also includes declines in cognitive and intellectual function such as comprehension, judgment, learning capacity and reasoning.
So while having some trouble remembering doesn't mean you're slipping into senility, if it is something you're finding increasingly troublesome, you might consider ways to improve memory.
Good starting points are eating a healthy diet, staying physically active and getting plenty of rest. All can help combat memory loss while helping you feel and function better overall.
Mental health experts also advise that memory can be improved and preserved through training and practicing of memory skills. There are numerous books, and even computer programs, with exercises to improve memory. Learning a new skill, like cooking or chess, is another way to challenge and strengthen your mind.
But, if memory issues are truly bothering you, consider consulting a counseling professional. A counselor specializing in aging can offer diagnostic tests, as well as techniques, strategies and advice to make memory loss less of an issue in your life.