There is so much talk about failing memory and symptoms of Alzheimer Memory loss these days that the subject is on every mind. I am an older persons and I’m acutely aware of this. Because my children are instantly suspicious of the slightest sign that Mom might be “losing it,” it being short-term memory. I’m sure they have had the conversation, among themselves, that begins, “What are we going to do about Mom when her mind begins to go?” I’m over eighty and besides forgetting, sometimes, what I have entered a room looking for, I’m sharp as a tack, because I exercise my mind.
After much consideration I’ve become convinced that mental function declines in direct ratio to boredom. If you don’t exercise your mind, challenge yourself with new tasks, and stay current with what is going on, you’ll lose your mental acuity rapidly. I’m a writer. I write novels that deal with subjects new to me because it requires research and much note taking. In the course of the six books I’ve written I’ve explored American history, cattle ranching, Texas Hold’em Poker, and time travel. I know more about whale parasites, drug addiction and ghostly manifestations than I ever want to.
I’m also involved in local government because I’m an elected official, which is a whole new world requiring study. The point of all this is that I exercise my mind constantly and it is in better shape than the rest of me.
But, you are not me and you don’t have this interest. What can the average person, concerned about mental aging, do to stay sharp?
In the thirty years I had a retail store with many daily conversations with customers, I’ve discovered everybody worries about this problem. I discovered one simple thing we all can do to keep short-term memory sharp—work jigsaw puzzles.
Consider the process. First you have to create a system to deal with the various size and shapes of the pieces. I recommend starting with no more than 700 so you won’t get bogged down. I sort according to color and subject—sky, grass, roads, etc. Find all the pieces with straight edges because these are your border pieces and you’ll start with the border. Keep them in a special place.
By now your brain is working and ready to begin. The reason why jigsaw puzzles work so well is because you have to memorize the shape and size of the whole you want to fill while you look for the shape and color of the piece you need to fill that whole. This requires short-term memory. At first you’ll be slow, but in about three or four days you’re going to see tremendous improvement in the way your eyes see things.
I recommend painted street scenes or landscapes with some activity or a few people. The Thomas Kincade style puzzles are perfect. They usually have flowers, grass, houses and some people and even though at first glance there seems to be a lot of grass or shrubbery, you’ll notice that the character of the brush strokes changes from one spot to another. Lots of variety is what you need. Stay away from photos of a pizza or monotonous stuff.
Try this for a month and you can stop worrying about aging memory.