Originally created 03/10/02

Our ability to memorize can fade with age



A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.

- Edward de Bono

When I was in college we could get extra credit points in Psychology 101 by taking part in the experiments of others - usually grad students.

That's where I spent one afternoon reciting numbers, shapes and colors, all in sequence and all for the benefit of someone else's class project.

When it was over, the older student thanked me and said, "You have an excellent memory."

I nodded and left with the confirmation of something I'd long suspected - I was good at remembering things.

But talents erode with the years.

Lately, I keep having trouble remembering if I locked my car when I leave the parking lot at work. Sometimes I will get almost to the door before deciding to turn around and walk back to make sure I've taken the basic precaution to prevent thieves from rifling my glove box for road maps and Rolaids.

I have driven as much as a mile toward the office only to decide to turn around and go back ... just to make sure I closed the garage door.

I have left my wallet in a suit pocket and then gone not one but two days before realizing I've been strolling through life without my driver's license, credit cards or AARP membership. (I carry cash separately in a money clip.)

Fortunately, I'm not alone.

A new study by Denise Park, the director for the Center for Aging and Cognition at the University of Michigan, says our memories begin to slowly go downhill from age 20 on.

The change is so gradual, most of us don't notice until our mid-60s. And some of us don't notice at all.

Yes, there are many older adults who retain excellent memories, and Ms. Park says researchers are not sure why.

She thinks that maybe it's like anything else - you use it or lose it.

Among her suggestions for memory stimulation are puzzles, art, chess, cards, creating art or interacting with others.

She also wants to assure older people who confuse the first signs of forgetfulness with the onset of Alzheimer's. Forgetting where you parked the car is normal, she said. Forgetting what a car does is not.

(I'm not there, yet, but I've driven through the neighborhood.)

I plan on jogging my memory a little harder each day to make sure it lasts as long as it can.

I hope it works.

I hope what's-her-name is right about the car thing.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.