Saturday, September 24, 2011

Forgetting, Remembering, and Aging Brains

Apropos of little of nothing (i.e., apropos of little I normally discuss on this blog): I'm feeling my age as this week ends.  Earlier in the week, I saw an article at Huffington Post with a tantalizing headline, something like, "What Disputed Finding about Aging Has Research Now Confirmed?"  I clicked and read: the finding is that people actually do grow shorter with age (as many of us already knew, sans scientific research).

Then the next day, I saw the headline again, and thought, "Interesting.  I wonder what that article is about?"  And then I suddenly realized I had previously read it.

But my aging brain couldn't remember what the finding was that researchers had just confirmed!

I notice a quite specific and very aggravating pattern with memory lapses as I age.  This is that words that once leapt quickly into my head now find their way to consciousness through a much more labored and tortuous route, and that route involves increasing amounts of time.

For some reason, I am now having trouble recalling--this is a very specific finding--the names of plants.  Names that once skipped glibly off my tongue just won't come to me any longer.  Steve and I have been 'round and 'round all summer long about lantana.

First, I'll remember and use that plant name, and then I'll forget and have to ask Steve to refresh my memory, and he'll suddenly find that he's forgotten it, too.  And right now, there's a name that is proving to be maddeningly elusive, the name of a common garden flower that I've seen growing in a wild form on our daily walks in the past week, and cannot call to mind.

And how to look up the name one can't recall?  If I knew where to look it up, I'd remember the name itself . . . .

I try to tell myself that, as one grows older, there's simply far more information stored in one's head, and the short-circuits of memory are due to the overload of information, of things to be remembered, of tidbits of information to be pulled up out of the pools of memory.  I can, for instance, recall precisely when and where I first heard the German word for "larkspur," Rittersporn, knights' spurs.

I can call to mind, even, the very look of the hillside, as we climbed to the ruined chapel in Bavaria, outside Munich, when our friend Mareile looked down, pointed to the larkspur, and exclaimed, Rittersporn.  I remember the sunshine, our conversation about, well, that other plant I can picture in my head, but whose name has now flown out of memory.  I remember the peeling paint on the chapel walls, the sad, stained little picture of the Virgin Mary high on one wall.

But that common plant (ah! the one I couldn't remember just now: mullein, which I remember Mareile telling me that same day is called Königskerze in German, king's candle) I'm seeing on our daily walks?  I cannot for the life of me remember its name.

And I doubt that the information-overload theory with which I'm trying to console myself totally explains this slowing down of an aging head.  I'm pretty sure that the problem is just, simply, the aging of the head itself.  Words, insights, recognitions, awarenesses, solutions: they just come more slowly as one grows older.

And the challenge is to be more patient with oneself (and others).  

All of this was driven home for me in yet another way this week, when some organization emailed me and asked me to fill out a questionnaire about blogging.  I  dutifully did so.

And as I did so, I realized: I don't really know the first thing about blogging.  About the technology of blogging.  About Facebook and Twitter, though I claim to use both of them.  The questions on the questionnaire made me realize I don't really know how Facebook and Twitter actually work, or how to use either of these online tools effectively at all--or all the others the questionnaire mentioned, like Digg.

As with that forgotten plant name, where to go to find this information--since one has to have at least some inkling, in order to know where to go to remedy one's ignorance.  What I obviously need is some kind of class for aging heads about how to use the internet, how to make best use of a blog, how to understand Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

Blessedly, though, in a day or so, I'll forget that I have realized I need that augmentation of my information base . . . .  Meanwhile, I think I'll do something really wild and rebellious this afternoon, to rage against the aging process: like wear a white golf shirt when we go out for a late lunch on this post-Labor Day afternoon.

And I may get really wild and wear black shoes with brown pants.

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