There are times when I’m in the computer room when I hear my wife ask for something she needs done now.

Being the good husband, I’ll stop doing whatever it was in the computer room and attend to her needs. It usually takes a few minutes to get her requests completed. Afterward, I find myself forgetting what I was doing prior to her needs being met and start some “whatever” things my mind will conger up.

Those interruptions for us seniors are not unusual and can be very embarrassing. I just had what we call a “senior moment,” which is a memory deficit that appears to have a biological cause. When an older adult is interrupted while completing a task, it is likely that the original task at hand can be forgotten. Studies have shown that the brain of an older adult does not have the ability to re-engage after an interruption and continues to focus on the particular interruption unlike that of a younger brain. This inability to multi-task is normal with aging in senior citizens.

Continuing on, as we have reported previously certain types of memory deteriorates as we age and understanding how our memory works can help us use it more effectively.

But first there are several things we need to know about memory and its four key points. The first key point is we tend to remember interesting information we process deeply. “Deeply” here refers to a memory “etched” in the mind. The mind may set it aside until some outside sight or spoken word brings that memory back into focus but it will be detained. If the information is thought-provoking, being harmful, those memories too will be processed much deeper.

We remember visuospatial better than verbal information.  Visuospatial skills are skills that allow us to visually perceive objects and the three-dimensional relationships among objects. These are the skills that enable us to recognize geometric shapes. They also allow us to retrace our way back to the place from whence we came from because we have a visual map in our memory from the last time we made the trip.

We remember information that is connected to things we already know.  When one is driving his car, one doesn’t think about where the brake is located. When one suddenly needs to stop very quickly, your mind will process the information in an instant to jam on the brakes.

One does not need to look for the brakes; the mind has deeply processed this information also and automatically sent your foot to stomp on the break. This kind of memory uses motor skills.

Aerobic exercise affects many people young and old. For the young, if exercise is introduced, it can form a constructive habit that can be instilled throughout adult hood and for the elderly, especially ones that have Alzheimer’s or other diseases that affect the memory, exercise will increase the hippocampus part of the brain and regain in size and improve memory. So start exercising; it’s good for the brain.

I wanted to address a problem with us seniors. Everyone ages differently, so there is no arbitrary cutoff as to when someone should stop driving. However, older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and get into accidents than younger drivers. In fact, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70.

What causes this increase? As we age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing or slowed motor reflexes may become a problem. You may have a chronic condition that gradually worsens with time.

Next week: Emotional aging

Nicholas Harmon is a Walton County resident and a correspondent for The Walton Tribune. Online: nicholasharmoncolumnist.com.

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