Everyone experiences memory loss throughout their lives, from forgetting the name of a new acquaintance to misplacing an item. As we age, however, forgetfulness becomes more worrying. Our aging bodies experience changes in a number of ways, and cognitive functioning is no exception. That being said, not all “senior moments” necessarily indicate dementia. Sometimes the reason for forgetfulness, aches and pains, sleepiness, or mood changes is simply “a case of the birthdays.” *
This is my term for natural age-related mental and physical changes. Many people caring for their aging loved ones are hypersensitive to these changes. It is, of course, a good idea to pay attention to such things when tracking potential health conditions. But it is also important to remember what comes with each candle added to the birthday cake — more acquaintances, friends, and family members … more sights, smells, words, and feelings.
You can think of your brain as a purse or knapsack that is continually being filled with more “stuff” as we age, in the form of memories. As we all know, the fuller the bag, the harder it is to find what we are looking for at a given moment. While this does make for a sometimes worrying scenario of forgetfulness, we should celebrate how lucky our loved one is to have a brain and body full of so many life experiences!
So the next time you find yourself worried about changes in your aging loved one, or they become concerned about themselves, get together and reflect. How many tackles did he take while high school quarterback? How many birthday parties did she throw for all her children and grandkids over the years? How many pounds did he carry on his back marching during military service? How many countries did she visit throughout her adventuresome life? Being worn by life and carrying on is an honor to celebrate and cherish. We all should be so fortunate as to have “a case of the birthdays.”
*Consult with your healthcare team on any changes, physical or mental, observed in your aging loved one.
Kathryn Cherkas is the program manager at the Friendship Center Montecito.