Good news! Forgetfulness and talking to yourself are signs of intelligence. Seriously! That is where we get the stereotype of the absent-minded professor always muttering to himself. He’s brilliantly solving his equations but can’t remember where he left his keys.
I often work with people who have Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and sometimes it is really good to take a break, to focus on the positive and to remember that aging is not a disease, that many of us age gently and gracefully. It can be easy to lose all perspective when you are a caregiver, but some 85% of us who live long lives will leave this world in relatively good health.
I mention this because it has long been thought that some memory loss was just an inevitable symptom of getting older. Some new research has begun to question that, to study how the brain actually works as we age. Come to find out, older people may not actually be declining at all, but rather just becoming wiser, more intelligent.
We know our absent-minded professor can be in his 30s and there really is a correlation between intelligence and forgetfulness, so researchers wanted to know why. The theory is our brains are kind of like computers, so the more data we take in, the more windows we have open at the same time, the more crashes there are. Our processors can only handle so much data at once, so our brains engage in perpetual data dump. We may think it’s important to remember where we left our keys, but our brains simply see extraneous data and dump it into the abyss for us.
We talk to ourselves because spoken words stimulate and trigger memory. Words have amazing power, all related to memory, whether we are singing, writing them down, or simply muttering to ourselves. Songs can be so powerful that even people with serious injuries to their brain can sometimes be stimulated by a song from childhood, a song that has been lost in their head somewhere for half a century. Words have power. Words set to music are just phenomenal.
One trick for remembering where you left your keys is to always put them in the same place, but also to make up a little tune about it and sing the words to yourself a few times. Music and rhythm can help to trigger memory so if something is connected to music, you’ll have a much easier time retrieving the data.
So, just some good news to keep in mind if you find yourself forgetful and walking around muttering to yourself. You may not be “declining” at all, you may simply be getting much smarter. The longer we live, the more information we take in and the more clutter our brains must learn to process. There are many very sharp people in their 90’s, even past 100.
Many of our brain fogs and forgetfulness can be related to excessive stress or health issues, so temporary and fleeting things if we can relieve the stress and identify the health issue. The other kind of forgetfulness that leaves us walking around and muttering may well simply be a sign that we are getting smarter. Remember that the next time someone speaks of your alleged “decline.”