A new study has found that memory loss begins as early as one’s mid-forties. But as one who has just entered his mid-forties, here’s something even more distressing: the study found that memory loss begins as early as one’s mid-forties.
It’s official: you are reading the words of a man who is as with it as he is going to get.
And it’s not just memory. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, also found that over a period of 10 years there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning among men aged 45-49. Worryingly, that may be enough to make the brain succumb to nefarious plots like email scams and Adele songs.
I have long had a love-hate relationship with my brain: I love me and it hates me. My memory has always been lousy and it’s unsettling to imagine it eroding even further.
Not that there aren’t positives to my condition: cruising through middle age with a feeble memory is a real thrill ride. Every moment holds the potential for adventure and intrigue. Will I remember where I parked my car? Will I remember that I own a car? MY PULSE IS RACING!
The key is having the right attitude. For instance, I used to get flustered when I couldn’t immediately recall the name of an acquaintance, or long-lost friend, or blood relative. Not anymore. Now I embrace it as a challenge: to figure out who you are before you figure out that I can’t figure out who you are. How will you know if I win? I will use your name with enthusiasm and repetition. JIM, IT’S JIM-DARN GOOD TO JIM YOU, JIM! (There is a chance I will say this even if your name is Nancy.)
The brain is truly bewildering. You’d think there’d be some kind of setting so we could actively prioritize what we remember. Instead, I now find the following scenario playing out most mornings:
1. Wonder where car keys are.
2. Find car keys.
3. Place car keys in pocket.
4. Wonder where car keys are.
Yet during the holidays, my family and I found ourselves in a ski gondola with a few younger chaps. Talk turned, as it often does on such occasions, to the 1980s song The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.
I impressed the kids with my knowledge of the lyrics. I dazzled them by referencing the song’s inclusion in an episode of Futurama. And I amazed them with a shot-by-shot recollection from memory of the song’s video, including the random guys wearing chicken masks. At this point the fellows fell silent, as people often do when calculating the odds of surviving a 10-m plunge to escape a conversation.
There’s an obvious lesson we all can learn from this: to be preserved in memory, all our life’s events must be set to the tune of The Safety Dance:
Met a guy at a conference
Said his name was Ted McGee
He wore a brown suit
Is allergic to fruit
Then he said he had to go and pee.
What’s most irritating is the selective nature of what the brain retains. First names of performing members of the Osmond family? Scored six of seven without consulting Google. What I just got for Christmas? No clue.
I used to be a big reader of non-fiction books until I realized that within hours I was forgetting almost every bit of information. Not a word of a lie—I have read more than a dozen books on the Second World War and there are times when the sum of my knowledge barely exceeds, “I’m pretty sure Germany was involved.”
It’s best to console oneself with the upside. People with strong memories are often forced to relive their darkest and most painful moments, whereas I move freely through life unburdened by the mental image of my Grade 8 designer jeans.
I do wonder, though: how much worse can my memory get? And how will the decline manifest? Also, where did this bruise come from?
If there’s any good news out of the study, it’s that even as recollection, reasoning and comprehension erode with age, our vocabulary endures. The most memory-challenged person remembers words. So at the very least, I’ll always be able to eloquently apologize for forgetting to wear pants.