Let’s get to the point of this blog. I’ll start with a little humour to get my point across.
There is a joke that may have some variations on the theme, but it goes like this…
One day, a man was visiting a friend in a long-term care facility. At the desk, he was told to have a seat in the recreation room and wait for his friend, who was receiving some form of therapy for about twenty minutes more. On entry, who does his see sitting at a table working on a puzzle, but his first true love, his high school sweet heart. He goes over to the table and says, “Milli, it’s me. Do you remember me?” Milli stares at him blankly. He tries again, “Milli, it’s me Herman, from high school. I was your boy friend during our Senior year. We went to the prom together.” Milli stares blankly at him. “Milli, surely you know who I am”, he said with some emotion. Milli finally speaks saying, ” I don’t know how you know my name. I’m really very sorry. I don’t know who you are. I can’t help you at all, but if you go over to that lady at the desk she will be able to tell you. She reminds me who I am everyday.”
Milli not only has no idea who Herman is, but she needs to be reminded each day who she herself is. This joke pokes fun at a pretty serious problem, and one has to be careful who you tell it to, since it might cut close to the bone. There really isn’t much to laugh about when it comes to memory loss due to aspects of aging. The two individuals who are the subject of this joke represent polar opposites in terms of memory. Herman, clearly as old as Mille, still has his personal history intact. Milli has lost her history, and essentially has lost herself, save receiving a reminder each day. So, given the choice, I would like to be a Herman as I age, and not a Milli.
I’ll be sixty-seven this year, and very much aware of my own mortality, and the possible fragility of memory. Is there nothing one can do to combat intellectual decline and preventing the loss of one’s personal history? The solution to combating intellectual decline is to keep your mind active, engage in learning new things, and maintaining old interests as much as possible. There is evidence in support of those ideas. The common wisdom is, use it, or lose it. There are many computer related programs to help one exercise various components of our memory, just not the memory compartments associated with autobiographical memory.
Preventing the loss of personal history is another story, but my Aunt Rose presented me with a solution, for at the age of 100 as of October 2012, she is s sharp as a tack. Her secret is that she is completely in touch with her personal history, and the histories of so many others. She is able to relate story after story about events in her life, and the lives of many family members. I concluded, that story telling based on her autobiographical memories rehearsed those memories so many times that they became indelibly etched in her mind.
In her story telling, the element of recall of fact was important, but as she related facts, they were embellished with how people reacted in the scenarios she related. My centenarian aunt is exercising her mind in such a way that she exercised and strengthened her declarative memory. So the key ideas that drive my blogging relate to this idea of exercising declarative memory for the purpose of preserving the self thorough the reclamation and rehearsal of autobiographical memories.
I’ll relate all this to the idea of a personal Dome of Heaven in my next entry.
As always, your faithful blogger,
L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment
Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com