Monday Memory Hacks

by Carol Sabel Blodgett
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Memory is a tricky thing. We can remember things word-for-word from an argument, but perhaps can’t recall what we had for breakfast that same day. We all have memory in varying amounts and in differing levels, but the thing that we might not give much thought to is, we all need it to work for us for as long as humanly possible.

That seems obvious, but it’s not. We take it for granted, and why wouldn’t we? It’s here, we use it every day, it’s not something you just stumble across. It’s in us when we’re born. We are gifted with the ability to keep the good and bad with us at all times. The stove is hot. Pickles are sour. Candy is good. Rain is wet. Break ups hurt. We remember, in our own ways.

I used to have an awful memory and my parents would get on me about it regularly. I’d forget to shut off the lights, forget my homework at school, lose track of time and get home late, rush around to try to get to my after school job on the days I worked. Minor things that all lead up to big problems. People are inconvenienced and angry when they have to wait for you and the electric bill is high when all the bulbs are burning.

What I began to do was memorize things rather than remember. I can spell any word in the world. I clap it out and memorize it to a rhythm. It works for me. Like a cheer, like a chant, but I became an incredible speller and by way of becoming an author in later life, my method is an asset in many ways.

I have to tell myself every single time I leave a room to turn off the lights. I started this when I was a freshman in high school since the yelling from my parents was dreadful. I’d run through the house and leave every light on in my wake. Being older, I get why they were mad, but at the time I only knew that lights off equaled silence. I still do this. It’s not memory as much as it’s become a habit.

We all learn differently. Some people have it easy, for the rest of us, we need the memory hacks to see us through. It’s nice to have phones now that we can set alarms on. I get my utilities paid on time, my credit card payment, my insurance, all of it because I set an alarm to remind me every month when my bills are due. It works for me. It’s a simple way to keep my credit in good standing. My life is easier.

Remembering where we met someone or how we know them can be a struggle. I hate awkward situations so I’ll keep talking to someone until something is revealed. I’ll ask how work is going or if they’ve planned that vacation yet, anything to try to get them to make a comment to help me remember where on God’s green earth I know them from. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much but I, like many other people, hate to admit when I don’t know someone who certainly seems to know me.

I know that driving different routes to our destinations is a good way to keep the brain moving. Taking the same route over and over again is more convenient for sure, but when I find myself fighting for the small things I should know right off the bat, I start changing my routine. I’ll take the long way; I’ll drive across town and take a dozen side streets to get back. I park in different sides of the parking lots I use. I don’t want to get too comfortable with the same row at the grocery store and make it easy on myself.

I can’t afford to take it easy on my memory. My family deals with dementia and brain tumors that kill us. I keep up on taking care of my brain. I’m in this fight for with my doctor who takes my concerns seriously and stays up-to-date on me. The occasional CAT scan is important. My mother and her father died from brain tumors, her mother has dementia so I know I could be in the running for some difficult times ahead. I know that there are no real short cuts to avoiding brain tumors or brain cancer or dementia, but by staying on top of our health and facing possibilities, we stay vigilant. I’m not scared, I’m ready for it if it comes, but I’ll see it coming from a mile away and be better prepared to fight.

I moved out of state several years ago, but up until that time, I had lived close to my grandmother and had gone to see her every weekend. My children needed to know her. That was important to me. We have always been very close, but she has forgotten me since she doesn’t see me as much. On one visit she talked to me all day about her granddaughter, who was me, and about her children, who are mine. She said nothing but good things about me and that was comforting, but I wish she had known who I was. More recently, when I was home and visited her she told me she knew she loved me but she didn’t know who I was. It’s sad, and it hurts, but it’s dementia.

There are medications to help with memory, but until I feel I need them, I’m staying away from them. Foods can help. Avocados can improve cognitive brain function. Broccoli can help with focus. Dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain which can work to improve brain function, as well. I personally like those foods so it’s no hardship on me to keep these in my diet. There’s tons of information out there on which foods do what. Adding things that could make a difference in your ability to remember is a smart way to go.

Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, mazes, word finds, and many other activities are things that keep your brain working to deduct and create. Do them. Do other things. Make yourself think; don’t get comfortable in what you do and what you know. Don’t become stagnate in your growth. Everyone can find something they like to do that will help keep the wheels turning, that will grease the gears, and make you able to remember who you are and where you’re from in the future.

Don’t become complacent. Don’t give in to what some might say is inevitability. Fight for your memory like your life depends on it, because someday, it just might.

Carol Sabel Blodgett
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