How’s your memory? Still as good as when you were younger? The chances are you reckon you are less capable at recalling things as you get older. Indeed, you often hear older people say “it’s my age” when they find it hard to remember something. Age-related memory loss appears to be a real factor of growing old. Except it isn’t.
People who have real memory issues, such as dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s, have physical problems with their brains. They lose significant numbers of brain cells and brain cell connections. But older people who have “age-related memory loss” without any evidence of brain damage are just seen as “normal elderly”. But it isn’t normal.
Two things happen. Firstly because we expect our brains to become less capable as we get older we give ourselves permission to forget things. It means we stop using all the strategies for remembering which we put into place in our younger years. Because we accept “age related memory loss” as a “fact of life” we stop making the effort to remember, which clearly does not help.
But another issue happens as we get older – we tend to be less social. We become more isolated and more self-centred. Partly that’s because of physical infirmity making it difficult to get out and about, but again it is partly due to “social construction”. When we get into our later years we “expect” to slow down because of our age, so we do. Rather like our memory, we make less effort as we get older to get out and about because we accept the notion that getting old means being static.
It is, like many other things we accept about life, largely inaccurate. Age-related memory loss happens because we let it happen. Unless you have a medical condition, there is no reason why your memory should be any worse when you are 80 than when it was when you were 18. As new research published this week shows, people who are active, who are social and who lead a full life have brains which actually look young when scanned. In other words, refusing to “be old” means your brain stays young and you do not have “age related memory loss”.
However, crucial to the staying-young-brain, according to this study is an active social life. Many studies have shown that socialising reduces anxiety and stress, that social people tend to be healthier and that social people tend to be happier generally. Now this new research shows that social people also have better brains.
This is not unexpected. Take an elderly person living alone and place them in a care home where they are largely forced into socialising. Guess what? Their aches and pains disappear, their general health improves and they often can remember things better. Families often report that when their loved ones get a place in a care home, they get much better generally. “Why didn’t they come here sooner?” is often the cry from families.
It all suggests that socialisation is fundamental to our health and well-being. Which is why Facebook is such a great thing for our health – but only if you follow the implications of this recent research. Don’t just socialise on Facebook, but be physically active too. Get out and about and meet your Facebook friends in the real world and you will have a much better memory as you get older – as well as plenty of other health benefits.