With Alzheimer’s disease and dementia becoming more prevalent, it is a worry when you find you can’t remember a word that you figure should be right there on the tip of your tongue.
This is especially true when you reach the age of 90 as I have. My kids try to consol me by saying there is so much stored in my brain that I just can’t get the right information to the surface when I need it. That’s some consolation.
My husband, Hugh, is confined to a former Military Hospital, Deer Lodge, now a long-term care facility. On his Veterans’ ward there are so many poor souls who are coping with memory loss. It is difficult to realize these are people who have led active lives and held responsible positions. I did take a Brain Fitness course and found out that we can improve our brains by memorizing poetry or practicing on a new instrument. Word games like crossword puzzles and cryptoquotes are helpful as well. Researchers have discovered that people who have suffered strokes can reactivate their brains. Also that the brain can be reshaped but it can lose its shape if it hasn’t been practiced. It is said that what we have learned can be restored. Every time we revisit it, we activate it more strongly. By continuous learning we are banking neurons for a rainy day. So the trick is to continue exercising your brain. Having moved after living 48 years in the same house I am now in a seniors’ residence. It has been a challenge having to remember the names of all the people I am meeting. Remembering names and being with people does help keep you alert. Being physically fit is highly recommended. Regular exercise is essential. Also, instead of driving the same route every day, as we are apt to do, it’s recommended that you take a different route so that things are not so automatic. I always say that my car just finds its own way, like an old horse going back to the barn, when I head for Deer Lodge where I visit Hugh each day or to my fitness place where I also go so regularly. To change the route I have to think where I am heading next and this is what they recommend to challenge your brain.
Being a reader is beneficial as well. Unlike most Icelanders, I’m not an avid reader, although my favourite book these days is Lillian Vilborg’s Harðfiskur & Skyr. How I love that book. When I can’t sleep at night I heat up some milk and sit with Lillian’s book. The way she writes makes me feel like she is sitting right beside me telling me the story. I do miss Lillian. Like my nephew Neil, Lillian had a way of making you feel special. We all need someone in our lives to make us feel special. (Sadly, they are now both gone.) I may not be much of a reader but I do spend a lot of time knitting and they say that is good for the brain. I design my own patterns on the mitts I knit for the IODE and the sweaters for my great grandchildren. I feel lucky my mother taught me to knit the Icelandic way which, I figure, is quicker. Oddly enough, I never did see my mother knit as she spent her time crocheting bedspreads, tablecloths and trims for pillows. Her hands were always busy. Writing letters and keeping a diary is another way to stimulate your brain. Sadly, letter writing seems to be a thing of the past. In my estimation, E-mail doesn’t have the value of the written word. I have so many letters I have saved over the years and, to me, they are a form of history. Even the penmanship tells a story. So, being with people and remembering their names, keeping fit as possible, working on puzzles, reading, working at crafts, playing an instrument, memorizing poetry, writing letters and just learning something new helps your brain to keep active.
Old age is a battle to the finish.