How to Improve Your Memory in Retirement

Early in my career my job routinely required me to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time. A typical morning involved reading through accumulated emails with a phone wedged between my ear and shoulder while a line of sales reps formed just outside my cubical. I wasn’t necessarily the most efficient with my attention divided like this, but it was the nature of the job. There was so much to get done during the course of the day that I did not have the luxury to focus my attention exclusively on one item at a time. Fortunately, I was able to successfully multitask.

Now as I approach retirement age I am beginning to believe the multitasking I used to be so good at may do more harm than good. In my daily endeavors I find it increasingly challenging to juggle more than a few things at once. And I quickly forget the specifics. Without focusing my attention I miss important details along the way. Here’s what I’m doing to work on improving my memory:

 

Pay attention. I am discovering that my memory improves when I try to concentrate only on the specific task at hand. For example, when in a parking lot I make a conscious note of exactly where I leave my car. I pay particular attention to the name when introduced to someone new, trying to make some association that will help me remember. When
listening to a lengthy discussion, I make the extra effort to stay focused rather than allow my mind free reign to wander. I find that by focusing in on the one thing immediately at hand my memory miraculously improves. When we are constantly bombarded by advertising, noise and stimuli from all sides, it is easy to become sidetracked and distracted. But if we can cut through the noise and think clearly about what we are doing right now, perhaps we can resist the temptation to let our minds wander off the subject.

Forgetfulness. I don’t think that my memory challenges are entirely due to getting older. It is not that I am forgetful, but I am less able to divide my attention across multiple topics. If my mind wanders to a future dinner party at the instant I put my car keys down, chances are I will have a hard time relocating those same keys when it is time to head out the door. Should my wife share important events of her day while I am looking at the clock to see how close it is to the 49er’s kickoff, I risk missing her message entirely. And then I feel like a fool having to ask her to repeat what I know she just explained. The more I allow myself to be distracted by what I should be or can be doing, the less aware I become of what I am doing right now. Many a glass of water has overfilled and spilled onto the counter as I distractedly set about doing too many things at once. Maybe my younger mind was capable of this multitasking challenge, but these days it isn’t.

Live in the moment. It is easy to find your thoughts wandering, even when engaged in something as simple as walking the neighborhood after dinner. If your mind is out there somewhere, you can miss all that is going on around you at this specific moment. You may find yourself planning tomorrow’s projects, but by doing so overlook the magnificent world around you right now. As your thoughts stray, you miss the rising moon and first twinkling stars of the evening. More significantly, you ignore the person walking at your side when both of you are caught up in distant thoughts. By trying to live consciously in the moment, your attention is not diverted toward other horizons. You can become more aware and attentive. You may be surprised what you begin to notice, appreciate and remember.

Do one thing at a time. For me, maintaining a better memory really comes down to doing one thing at a time. I can still multitask but not as efficiently as I used to. In retirement I hope to be busy doing things I want to do at my own pace. I will have the luxury of putting off for later what I cannot manage right now. And this new freedom should allow me to focus on and appreciate each individual activity to the fullest. Rather than having my attention diluted across too many events, I plan to give each my all. With this focus, I hope my memory will be my friend in the years ahead.

From my US News & World blog. Dave Bernard is the author of “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be“. Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.

Memory Games and Brain Exercises for Seniors

The song goes “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger” but I cannot remember the name of the group! It is on the tip of my tongue but just beyond reach. And it doesn’t seem to be getting better with age.

Oscar Wilde said “memory is the diary that we all carry about with us” but what if the pages of that diary are fading or even blank?

Some things we are happy to forget about but unfortunately we do not get to choose which.

It is a struggle but there are some life style changes and improvements that may help with memory loss. At the very least they provide something we can do rather than just accepting without a fight.

Take a look at my blog 4 tips to stay mentally sharp in retirement for some ideas. Senior health starts in our head!

 

Forget about it

I got up the other morning ready to start my day with a plan of action clearly defined in my mind. Ready to get to it and clear some of those to-do items from my activity list, I was dressed, fed, a nice cup of steaming coffee in my hand, and heading to the door. As usual, I checked my pockets before closing the automatically-locking door behind me – good thing too as I had forgotten my car keys! No biggie – I turned around and headed to the little ceramic bowl where I always put my keys. But they weren’t there. Where had I left my keys?

I retraced my steps from the previous day trying to remember exactly where I had wandered upon arriving home the night before. Did I go to the kitchen first? Or did I head straight upstairs? Had I emptied my pockets or did I leave the contents in my pants? Where the heck were my keys?

Forget About It

One curse of growing older is the unavoidable reality of a diminished memory. How easy it becomes to misplace something and how much more challenging it seems to finally track down the missing culprit. We used to be proud of the speed at which we could access nimble memory banks to quickly call out the name of a song we heard  on the radio. It took but brief moments to associate the name with the face of a movie star. And Jeopardy was fun as opposed to what now more commonly proves to be confounding.

The gradual forgetfulness happens over time and to varying degrees but it will be our companion long into our retirement years.

Various “mind exercises” are available to fight back – crossword puzzles, Sudoku, bridge, memory games – and all likely have some positive impact. We can make a conscious effort to focus more on exactly what we are doing rather than act out of habit – for example saying out loud “I am putting my keys in the cat box” so we have a better chance of recalling the exact location. We can attempt to slow down our hectic pace of living so actions do not become a blur with little significance.

But the reality is we senior citizens are just not as sharp as we used to be (no offense intended – one senior to another).

Fear not -I believe I have discovered a silver lining. Our senior moments and dulling memories can be a blessing in disguise. What is he talking about you ask…just listen:

I am happy to forget

How terribly burdensome it would be if we remembered EVERY detail of our lives up to this point. What we ate, what we said, what we heard said, what we dreamed, what we did right and what we did wrong. If we remembered everything how could we even hope to keep it all straight?

The saying goes that women “forget” the real pain of childbirth or at least experience a softening around the edges or there would be very few second children born let alone number three or beyond.

I think that this softening of memories can be a positive thing. A few examples:

  • Whatever it was that my wife and I disputed the other night is not significant (as long as we have made peace). Better to move on and forget about it.
  • The same mistakes made by politicians and leaders of the world, over and over with the same predictable results – I choose to forget about it but I sure wish they did not.
  • Mistakes I may have made during my life cannot be undone. If I fret over them I only bring on stress that I cannot appease as I cannot change the past. Forget about it.
  • The price of gas not so long ago – I have no choice but to forget about it as I wipe a tear from my eye.
  • The feelings of loss and pain that have been scattered through the years. If we are unable to forget to some extent or at least soften around the edges our painful  memories, they remain ever-fresh and vivid, a part of each day. Unable to put them behind us we cannot move on to the acceptance stage that is necessary for our mental health. If only we could forget

Losing our keys or forgetting the name of a song are trifles that though annoying do not often endanger our lives.

Some things we are sad to forget but unfortunately have no control over what happens to our memory.

Some things we are better off forgetting.

When we have no choice in the matter and we become upset, when we feel like we are literally “losing it”, I recommend heeding the words of a wise gangster from the movies who so sagely said, “forget about it…”.

 

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