In light of the recent infamous “senior moment” suffered by the NSW premier Barry O’Farrell (which cost him his job), when he forgot about the $3000 bottle of wine he received as a gift, John Elder wrote this interesting article in the Sunday Age which I thought to share with you. Some highlights of the article are below.
I would like to emphasise the positive impact of mediation and mindfulness practices to help us reduce those unnecessary and embarrassing senior moments.
Everyone forgets things – even premiers. But those middle-aged memory lapses do not necessarily presage the onset of dementia.
Last year, The Facing the Health of Australians survey of 5000 people aged 32 to 55, commissioned by the Australian Medicines Industry, found that dementia is second only to cancer as our greatest health concern, more feared than diabetes, obesity or depression.
”Yes, as we age our brains shrink. Yes, they slow down a bit. We begin to lose neurons and they aren’t replaced at the rate they once were. And so in some measure we are not as sharp or quick as we once were. But in the vast majority of the population aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s, that lack of sharpness is more a function of the complexity of what their brains are dealing with … it’s more a matter of selective attention than a measure of clinical pathology.”
The key issue here is that the healthily ageing brain doesn’t lose memories, they just take longer to retrieve. As Marshall Dalton, a former research assistant at NeuRA, notes in a blog – written in part as a response to frequently asked questions at Rotary dinners where he was a guest speaker – ”age-related memory problems are the result of reduced efficiency in communication between brain cells, whereas memory problems in dementia are the result of cell death”.
In many instances when our brain seems to be malfunctioning, it’s actually taking charge. In that moment when you walk into a room and forget what brought you there, Peter Schofield advises: ”perhaps the task was displaced by a more interesting thought or event. When you forget what you were doing, it’s possibly because it wasn’t so compelling. Most of us don’t have hugely long attention spans.”
This leads us to the unnerving issue of false memories: some researchers argue that every long-term memory we have is in some way false. This is because memory is a reconstruction, not a video recollection. When a new memory is acquired it goes through a number of different processes, firstly at the synaptic level (the junction where information is passed from one nerve cell to another), which takes hours; and then in the hippocampus, the part of the brain where new memories are laid down.
Each time we drag up a memory, it has been altered in some small way because of the circumstances we are in at the time, because of the motivation for recalling it or because new information has somehow mixed in with the original event. Why? It is thought largely to be a function of adaption, and the brain being efficient.
The net effect is that your memories – unless they have been planted by suggestion or manipulation – are true enough.