Ageing and Memory: My Experience Participating in a Research Study
Those Memory Problems
As we age, we often seem to have problems with our memory. For me, it's not the big things. I can remember quite clearly little things that happened way back in my life, with no problem at all. They stand out in my memory just like the vignettes that J. J. Rousseau wrote about. I remember reading about that in French class when I should have been studying for my Year Twelve examinations. It was so much more interesting than the declension of French nouns and learning the pluperfect of verbs that did not follow normal rules.
With our memory, it's the little things that niggle and become such a bother.
There's even a joke that my friends tell about this memory problem. I'm sure that if you're reading this and relating to it, you will remember it:
As we grow older, we often think more about the Hereafter. We walk into a room, look around vaguely and then say, "What am I here after?"
Memory and Words
Thinking of the right word when I'm writing can sometimes be a problem. Actually, it can be downright annoying if I can't find the exact one I need to express my thoughts.
On these occasions, what would I do without my trusty Penguin Macquarie Thesaurus? It's becoming so tattered now that it's in pieces, and often the section of the "word finder" that I need at the back is just what has disappeared in the dim recesses of my bookshelf. Everything is pulled out in the quest to find it.
Memory and Things
The next most annoying thing that I sometimes can't remember, is when I urgently need something, go into a room to get it, then look around and...
"Oh, bother! Why did I come here? What did I want in the bedroom?" I turn around, go back to where I had been, and then the memory returns. "Oh, yes! My cardigan! I was beginning to feel cold." And back I return to the bedroom, retrieve said cardigan and struggle into it.
Memory and People's Names
Probably the most difficult words to remember are the names of people I know quite well.
I can picture their faces, remember lots of things about them, where they live, what work they do or used to do, how many children they had, where they went for holidays—just not their name!
And that can't be located in a thesaurus, either!
Seeking a Solution
Some time ago, the retirement village where I live was approached by two students. Now when we think of students our minds probably veer rapidly towards a group of people in their late teens or early twenties. However, these two students were mature men with families and they were working together on their Ph.D. thesis. Their research topic? Yes, you've guessed it! Ageing and memory!
We residents were requested to attend a meeting when the two men would present their topic and ask for volunteers. As I'd been on a research path some years ago I knew just how difficult it can be to find a sufficient number of subjects for a study, I put my hand up and said,
"I'll be a guinea pig!"
I'm not sure that was the response they expected, but I was accepted, along with several others.
Those who volunteered were divided into two groups. We were instructed to adhere either to:
- A Mediterranean diet
- An exercise regimen
As I was already on a diet, I chose exercise. I did pilates exercises most mornings, but the study's exercise program was for walking.
- Those to be on the Mediterranean diet were given recipes and a large tin of Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Those who were to go walking were given a pedometer and a folder to record their walks.
Of course, we did not know if we were the "real" subjects or if we were in the control group.
It wasn't long before some people withdrew; the walking was a bore, recording it took too much time, the diet did not have enough variety, all the cooking was a nuisance, etc.
As a participant in the walking condition, I was given a folder that contained illustrated lists. These included:
- Warm-up exercises to be done before stretching exercises.
- Stretching exercises that included a whole page on stretching our Iiliotibial bands.
- The next page was devoted to the Bent Leg Calf Stretch and the Front of Calf and Toe Stretch.
- Walking equipment included cotton socks and lace-up walking shoes.
- Another page provided advice on suitable clothing, hats, water and sunscreen.
- A final page listed health benefits from a daily regime of brisk walking.
- It concluded with the message: "Enjoy your walk."
The Physical Benefits of Walking
I remembered that, when they were growing older, my Mother insisted on going for walks in the evenings with Dad. It was pleasant in the gloaming of summer, but not so good in winter and seemed to become unstuck in that season.
However, I think we all know that walking is healthy exercise. It's not much use if we just mooch along; to be beneficial, it needs to be brisk.
The benefits of brisk walking include helping us to
- control our weight,
- lower our blood pressure,
- improve our cholesterol levels,
- overcome breathing difficulties,
- strengthen our bones and so help to ward off osteoporosis,
- ward off diabetes,
- prevent a heart attack,
- prevent a stroke,
- and help us to generally feel more relaxed, happy and confident.
Is it worth the Effort?
Yes, and yes, again! I chose to walk early in the morning before breakfast, and it really helped to put me into a positive mood for the rest of the day. More than that, it actually did lower my cholesterol and my blood pressure.
In addition, I'm certain that it also helped my memory. When we are feeling relaxed, positive and healthy, it's so much easier to control our whole lives. Even when we are older, that's what a healthy life is about: holistic health, which means keeping fit in our bodies, minds and spirits.
Am I glad I volunteered? Definitely. All that was a couple of years ago, and I'm so sure it really helps that I'm still walking—briskly!
Try it and let me know what you think.