Why remembering is more important than ever before

As I get on in years dredging up older accurate memories gets more difficult

What do most older people think about when they mentally review all the phases of three or four decades of their lives?

Aside from immediate family growth, different housing locations, changes in clothing styles and food preferences, single status or one or more marriages, vehicles over the years, the evolution of entertainment, sports, music, travel, illnesses, employment changes, business experiences and hobbies, an inestimable number of other elements all create memories that last a lifetime for any individual.

In times of quiet reflection about the past, all of those and more pass through the mind. For me, virtually any event can trigger a memory search and at an older stage, I’m often vaguely surprised to have to acknowledge that it’s more and more difficult to recall everything in detail.

Our memory, it is often said, plays a big role in life. It allows us to continue to learn skills, to retrieve information that is stored in the brain or to recall a precious moment that occurred in the past. But unlike a computer memory, it’s not quite as finite and rarely will provide all the details of that moment without additional connecting efforts.

The computer will always give you back the data that has been entered. The brain, for sure, cannot be counted on doing the same at all times.

As an example – when I was a lot younger, I kept a growing list of addresses where I lived in Scotland, England, New Brunswick and Ontario – but somehow that list is no longer in my possession, on paper or in the mind.

I can remember the address and even the phone number of my boyhood home very clearly – after that even the timeline gets a bit faded. A few of that somewhat embarrassingly long string of residential addresses in Kingston, Saint John, Moncton, Scarborough, Don Mills and Brampton might emerge from a search of personal papers.

But in my mind, the only easy memorable ones are a cottage I rented a Nicholson’s Point, outside Kingston and the address of the first house I bought in 1975 on Beech Street in Brampton. My four addresses in Kitimat since 1980 are more easily recalled. But workplaces and dates might be on a résumé in my storage file – but only generally come to mind now.

I doubt I would need too much deep research to scribble a general autobiography but it would certainly tax and exercise the memory. Fortunately, it would interest very few either. But I would be able to.

As a brain exercise, I tried to just recall televisions I’ve owned over the years. My dad wouldn’t have a TV in the house when I was an early teen. So that’s a history lesson on its own.

So many sets, from the first black and white small screen in Lowestoft, England in 1959, to my first colour set in Don Mills, circa 1967, and right up to today’s pair of 55 inch flat widescreens, one in HD and one 4K.

One of the public’s problems with electronic technology like television sets is that there really is no now. There are always new and improved systems every couple of years and now that “affordable 4K era” is on the tip of the lip of the sales group in all the TV stores, because prices inevitably drop with the level of competition – the geek squad is announcing – “welcome to 8K” – the new, better, higher priced TVs.

This cycle never ends – at the moment 8K is mostly in Japan – but give it another year or two in order to build up variety of content. Then expect the resolution and clarity competition blarney to build exponentially.

Similarly, I did it with cars – a ‘55 Dodge was first in 1960 not long after I started as a reporter for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal.

I have no real idea how many I have owned right up to today’s favourite, my blue Ford 150 truck, but there are valuable memories there too.

My first wide-eyed thrill of 145 km/h en route to Edmonton in my ’90s silver Thunderbird – not repeated since, maybe? Or with a load of hockey gear and four young players in my mini-van headed to a Prince George tournament, in heavy snow.

As I’ve said, as I get on in years dredging up older accurate memories gets more difficult – however the process is more meaningful than ever before.

Now I know why I’m seeing so much emphasis in writing about continuously exercising the brain to avoid cognitive decline. Numerous approaches have been designed to maintain and strengthen the cognitive capacity of the healthy, ageing brain. Despite advancing age, our brains retain the ability to be maintained and strengthened and a new commercial field of ‘brain fitness’ has been launched.

The internet has many available – and it’s a frequent subject raised on my Facebook.

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