One of the most common concerns I hear in my office is the fear someone is losing their memory. It immediately prompts worries they’re in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Not being able to remember a name, where they put their keys, why they walked into a room is frightening.
Most of us can deal with a physical issue.
It’s not pleasant or comfortable but it’s something we can point to, define and establish parameters for treatment and progress.
You break your foot, it gets put into a cast for a few weeks and then it heals.
Blood pressure elevated or have new onset diabetes? In most cases diet, weight loss, medication and close monitoring stabilizes the issue.
But poor memory implies a slippery road to a place where we can no longer impact our own health. Ultimately becoming dependent on others.
It’s a horrifying prospect for anyone.
But most times this isn’t the diagnosis.
In most cases being overwhelmed, distracted and exhausted is.
For decades we started to believe, even tout, that we could be “multitaskers.” Many proud to proclaim they could accomplish, and resolve effectively, a whole host of issues. It was a phrase bandied about so often it encouraged studies to prove if true.
They are not.
Study after study has proven doing more than one task at a time merely splits attention and diminishes performance and productivity. What it really accomplishes is an increase in stress and anxiety.
Then our lives changed.
Humans assimilate all data all the time. Everything we see, hear, touch, and smell assaults our brains, but only what’s required for the moment achieves consciousness. Everything else is either catalogued and stored or discarded. Our conscious minds are exceptionally good at prioritizing what’s needed to survive and function. The rest becomes background noise. Humans require focus to perform well. For generations one task, one result was not only acceptable, but appropriate.
Family dynamics changed. Many were single parents raising their children alone with little family support.
Jobs changed. No longer a 9-5 with benefits, often two or more jobs were necessary to survive.
The pandemic changed how we interact and socialize. Forcing most of us into isolation leading to heightened anxiety and despair.
Economic worries and food insecurity exponentially increased.
Social media allowed access to news, shopping, friends, entertainment 24 hours a day.
A constant barrage of information that never stops.
And now it seems neither do we.
For decades when I was in practice we had paper charts. I walked into my office in the morning to a clean, fresh day. As it progressed patient charts stacked up covered in new laboratory results, specialist notes, and diagnostic tests. Before I left they were all attended to and cleared. Updating to a digital system destroyed that sense of accomplishment. Now data fills my system every minute of every day. The moment I clear one stack, another is accumulating. It never ends. It took months to accept the fact I’d never catch up. That there was always going to be a report populating at all hours and I’d always have a stack to resolve regardless of the time of day.
It was distracting, overwhelming, upsetting and exhausting. I no longer controlled how the data was disseminated. It was the dawn of a new age.
One we’ve all experienced and continue to deal with every day. That volume overload is not healthy. It makes remembering even the simplest things difficult.
So, next time you think you’re losing your mind, forgetting or having difficulty performing simple tasks try these remedies:
Stop and breath. Take a few minutes each day to destress and relax.
Only focus on what you need to do at that moment.
Shut down your devices, TV, phones.
Keep distractions to a minimum.
Make sure your medications aren’t contributing.
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It is imperative to restoring, refreshing and rejuvenating the mind and body. It’s also when we store memories, without a good nights sleep this process is disrupted.
Exercise protects memory and cognitive skills. Studies show it stimulates the release of chemicals that improve brain health. Without it white matter in the brain can actually shrink.
For most, these simple steps will help.
For most, you are not losing your mind. Just asking it to do too much at once.
If you’re still concerned talk to your healthcare provider.