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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Memory Supplements, Anyone?

Okay, so I'm losing it. I drove to pick up some Chinese takeout the other night. It was snowing/sleeting and dark. (The sun goes down here at 4:31 PM. By 5, it's black out there!) I parked the car, turned off the engine and lights, and made a beeline for the restaurant, putting my mask on, of course.

The manager stood behind a plastic contraption that ran maybe 4 feet above a table. I felt safe. I paid, he pushed the bag of food through a plastic flap, and I was on my way. I slid into the driver's seat, turned on both the windshield wipers in the front and in the back. Time to turn on the headlights. Which handle or knob did I need to turn? I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember from having turned those lights off only minutes earlier. I fumbled around the steering wheel and kept turning the wipers on and off. Terrified that I'd lost my mind and was a car ride away from the senior facility with rooms for patients with dementia, I got out of the car just to check. The headlights were as dark as my mood.

Frustrated and worried, I got back in the car and continued to press and turn every object I could get my hands on. My seat started to cool, the interior lights to flicker, the radio to blare some hideous punk music from the eighties. I was frantic! After another minute or two during which my heart pounded so fast that I thought I was going to suffer a heart attack, I turned a knob that I'd somehow missed in my descent into hell, and voila the headlights were on. Sure, I was relieved but on the verge of hysterics. I'd friggin' forgotten how to turn the lights on in my car. I was losing it!

I vowed not to tell my husband but somehow blurted it out: "My memory is shot. I couldn't turn my headlights on!"

"Oh, that's happened to me."

He was trying to make me feel better. It didn't work.

"I'm going to the computer to check out memory exercises and maybe order some supplements."

He looked at me like I was nuts.

I'm a member of AARP and thought I'd start there. But I had to sign up for an online account, and I didn't have the patience. A new password, email address, my age, my gender, the name of my firstborn. I couldn't be bothered.

Like everyone else, I'd seen the commercials for Prevagen, the brain supplement made from jellyfish. Jellyfish? But there were these "real" people talking about how their focus, concentration, and memory had been improved. Naw, it must be one of those shady products that don't do a damn thing. (As it turns out, the FDA charged the supplement maker with false advertising back in 2012. In the legal filings, the company was accused of selectively reporting data and misleading the public by claiming that Prevagen is “clinically proven” to improve cognitive function. The lawsuit has not yet been decided.) Glad I didn't spend my money.

I moved on. There was Brain Bright, Bulletproof (For those who've been shot in the head?), My Brain!, Redi Mind . . . That last one brought visions of Redi Whip, and I was suddenly hankering for a hot fudge sundae. Not a good thing when trying to lose weight on Noom. (I'm supposed to tell everyone about the weight thing which will apparently gain me more supporters [not pounds] who will cheer me on.)

Surely, one of these supplements would do the job or, at least, prevent my memory from sliding further into the abyss. My hope was shattered when I read reviews like the following:

"Supplements to preserve or boost memory or cognition aren't worth the plastic they're bottled in."

"Supplements for brain health appear to be a huge waste of money for the 25 percent of adults over 50 who take them."

Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH)

Okay, okay. Forget about supplements. What next?

I turned to some comments by leading memory researchers and organizations with the burning question: "Am I losing my memory, or are my lapses normal with aging?" Here's part of one article that I found most reassuring.

If you are experiencing difficulties with memory, but:

  • They are not noticeably disrupting your daily life,

  • They are not affecting your ability to complete tasks as you usually would,

  • You have no difficulty learning and remembering new things and

  • There's no underlying medical condition that is causing your memory problems,

Then you have what's known as age-associated memory impairment.

Age-associated memory impairment is considered to be a normal part of aging. It doesn't mean you have dementia. Though you may have difficulties remembering things on occasion (Uh, ya, like turning car lights on and off); where you left your keys (or cell phone or your favorite pair of glasses), a password for a website, or the name of a former classmate (How embarrassing!), these are not signs you have dementia. (Phew!) You may not remember things as quickly as you used to (Ain't that the truth!), but most of the time there is no cause for concern.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Well, I was concerned, still am. But I need to let my heart rate calm down and pick up some online "fun" games to help keep me sharp and clearheaded. Does anyone have some suggestions?


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Sue Hepker
Sue Hepker
Jan 05, 2021

I love word puzzles on my phone - they are easy enough but now that I'm on Wordscapes Level 130,968 it is sometimes a good struggle before I complete the puzzle and feel distinctly satisfied! Lots of phone apps to choose from, and as long as you are using the brain it will continue to build and maintain those connections. It's the connections, not the actual brain cells, that need to be regularly fired. (Or so says my son-in-law the neuropsychologist - who thinks I would do well on Ritalin!) Learning anything new is a challenge - but I am determined to try my hand at learning how to operate as a sound engineer as I narrate books and blogs.…


JoAnn Jones
Jan 04, 2021

Old age is such an adventure. Two things are helpful in hanging on to memory - studying a foreign language and music, particularly singing. I have seen studies that show them to be helpful. My boys are used to my search for words that escape me every once in a while, but I have learned to describe the idea and they are happy to supply the word. You just can't worry about the memory thing. I think it happens to everyone. One thing I noticed when I went back to school for my master's - my memory skills were not what they once were, but my ability to understand dense ideas was better. So, kind of a trade off there.

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