You’ve arrived somewhere only to realize you’ve forgotten what you went there to do. Or perhaps you forgot the punch line at the end of a joke. When I was a young new mother, I got in my car to go to work when I suddenly remembered the baby was in her car seat in the living room! These are a few situations many of us will find we know too well. Incidents such as these remind me of the famous line from Mark Twain: “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”
Memory lapses such as these are caused by a variety of factors – thankfully few of them serious. If you can relate to the first scenario, you have experienced what researchers have dubbed “the doorway effect.” A paper published by Gabriel Radvansky at the University of Notre Dame explains that our brains use a file system not too dissimilar from our computers. However, rather than file folders for documents, music, pictures, etc, your brain files by physical location. This means that the information readily accessible to you in one room (or file) suddenly becomes a lot harder to access when you go to another one. The researchers suggest that saying things out loud as you pass through the doorway can help you remember your mission. You can read more about this study here: http://al.nd.edu/news/27483-walking-through-doorways-causes-forgetting-new-research-shows/
As the young harried mother, I blamed post-partum hormones and work overload on my memory lapse. But the forgotten punch line? I blame that on age. Knowing we are living longer and longer, I refuse to let my brain atrophy!
Doctors have long said that eating right, getting enough sleep and regular exercise are good for the body, including the brain. In addition, certain “brain foods” are thought to help protect brain function. There are also brain “exercises” one can do – crossword puzzles, Sudoku or Ken-Ken can help, or you can register with Lumosity, a free brain-training program developed by a group of neuroscientists. Even playing video games can provide benefit.
In addition to exercise, multiple studies have shown that community involvement, prayer and meditation help maintain healthy brain function. The reason: all three help control stress and anxiety.
And finally, never stop learning. Take up a new language, learn to play an instrument, buy a dictionary and learn a new word every day (and write a sentence using it!). Learn to play chess or poker. Do you want to know more about Higgs boson and the Large Hadrons Collider? Then sign up for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) being offered by the University of Edinburgh. In fact, there is a vast and growing world of free online courses covering wide range of topics offered by leading universities. You can get more information here: http://www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses
I personally love crossword puzzles, and every time my husband and I travel to a new country, we work hard on learning key phrases and words. No matter which method you choose to exercise your brain, you will be doing yourself a favor.
Tracy Allen, CFP®