Am I Losing My Mind?

I walk purposefully down the hallway, in a hurry to get to the bedroom–but when I get there, I can’t remember why I’ve come. I stand there, faintly embarrassed, like the first person to arrive at a party. I scratch my head and look around at the items on my dresser, thinking perhaps there’s a clue as to the reason for my arrival. What did I come in here for? It’s an absolute mystery. Sound familiar?

We’ve all lost our car keys, put the milk carton in the pantry instead of the fridge, or forgotten the name of a neighbor when we see them out of context. But having a complete blank when we enter a room to get something feels a bit like you’re losing your mind.

The good news is that, unlike aging, memory loss is not inevitable. Day-to-day glitches are not the same as dementia. Most of the time, short-term memory losses are normal and nothing to worry about.

It’s true that at middle age, it takes a bit longer to learn new concepts or retrieve a colleague’s name, but as we enter our 50s, 60s and beyond, our brains are still capable of creating new brain cells. The “use it or lose it” principle applies. Your lifestyle choices, exercise habits, and cognitive stimulation have a huge impact on the health of your brain.

Celebrating the brain is not something we’re used to doing; rather we just get frustrated with it when it’s not as quick as it used to be. But let’s take a moment to review the talents of a middle-aged brain: Life skills are much improved by middle age. We are often able to manage emotion more effectively, communicate more efficiently, and ask for what we want. Our experience allows us to project the outcome of our actions, helping us avoid pitfalls that younger brains just don’t see coming.

Frequently we are caregivers to aging parents, helping our kids graduate, and rolling with the highs and lows of menopause or other crises. We juggle all that life throws our way, and do it with an optimistic smile. Perhaps the secret to our cheery outlook is that we know “this too shall pass” and “tomorrow is another day.”

Of course, it’s not all a bucket of roses. There are days when we get it wrong, make stupid mistakes, and pay the price for doing so–but so does everyone else. We all misplace our cell phones, call our kids by the wrong name, and write notes to ourselves so we don’t forget things. But instead of complaining about our forgetful brain, let’s be grateful for the gifts of a brain that’s more creative, has a huge amount of life experience, and recognizes life patterns more quickly. Welcome to middle age!

A great book on coming to terms with our middle-aged brains is “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain,” an easy, educational, and fun read by Barbara Strauch. I highly recommend it.

 

Image credit: Allan Ajifo on Flickr (CC)

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