Old synapses never die… they just fade away

Published 1:39 am Sunday, February 16, 2014

When I hear young adults say, “I must be getting old. I can’t remember anything anymore,” I usually tell them to hang in there because it gets worse. 

They laugh and will comment that it can’t get any worse. I can’t help it! I have to assure them that unless they are unusually blessed, remembering will get worse.

Most of them do forget things because they have so much on their mind with working full time, raising kids and keeping up with their activities. I’ve been there and done that! It is enough to make them forget a few things once in a while.

As we age, the truth is, trying to remember anything and everything gets to be a real chore. I don’t understand why it should be so as most of us unreasonably expect to have the same brainpower at 70 as we had at 20.

Well, surprise, surprise! It is a rare individual indeed who can do that. In fact, remembering seems to decline with most people, albeit at different rates.

When he was trying to remember something, the late Al Hansen, our former managing editor at The Daily News, had a habit of hitting himself in the head and saying, “The synapses are going! The synapses are going!”

I always thought as intelligent as this man was, if his synapses went, surely mine would also go at some point. Of course most of us had to look that up, but you know that synapses are the little things that connect brain cells. Intelligence may have little to do with it. To put it simply, as we age these little synapses melt away, and it takes longer for thoughts to connect and emerge.

Everything is still there in our brains; it just takes a little longer to retrieve it.

When I am asked a certain fact, or somebody’s name, I may reply, “Give me 10 minutes and I can tell you!”

I know I am not too different from other people my age, so I am not really “losing it.” I acknowledge that I have to write everything down on a calendar just to remember where I am supposed to be on any given day and why I am supposed to be there.

Younger adults for the most part have calendars on their phones or readers to remind them of dates and times. I do too, but I usually forget to check it. If it dings to remind me that I have something planned, I may not hear it (another problem that can beset us as we age).

I have learned simple little habits to help me. For instance, I always hook my car keys onto a ring on my purse. When I take the keys out of the ignition, they automatically go onto the ring. That way, I never have to look for my keys. I don’t have to think about it… they are always there.

The only thing that really helps me remember is a paper calendar with big boxes on the dates that I can see each day and note my schedule… if I don’t forget to look at it.  Most days I don’t have any important dates to remember, so it works out pretty well.

I also have a calendar set aside to remind me which bills I have paid and which are coming up. That way my electricity and telephone won’t get turned off because I forgot to pay my bill.

I don’t usually write on my calendar the deadline for this column, because I write it every week at the same time. I may have to start jotting it down because this week I am late.

I forgot. What else can I say?

Retired Lifestyle Editor Bob Ann Breland writes a weekly column and may be contacted at bobann_b@ yahoo. com.