bill-jennifer-photoMy father told me a joke the other day that went like this.  “An old man and his wife needed some white bread and milk, so the husband decided to go down to the store to buy some.  His wife said “you’d better write it down or you’ll forget what to get.”

He of course said he wouldn’t, and even though she’s pressed him to write it down, off he went without doing so.  About 45 minutes later he arrives back with a tub of Vanilla ice-cream – no bread, no milk.  His wife is now clearly annoyed and says “See I told you you should have written it down, I knew you’d forget – I wanted Chocolate!” 

And my Dad laughs hard, as he reflects how the joke applies to him and Mum.  The thing is, this is about the sixth time he’s told me the joke – and the sixth time I’ve laughed at it with him and Mum.  Dad is 81 and Mum is 79 and they’re both amazing, but they are starting to lose their memory – particularly Mum who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Like many people their age they remember some things very clearly, and other things not at all.  Both are in excellent health and Dad is still sharp as a tack – he reads the daily Canadian and Australian News on his computer, loves strolling the streets of our home town Winnipeg and the great cities of the world (Rome, London Jerusalem) on Google Earth, and reads on his Kindle constantly because he can enlarge the print.

Mum works in the garden, helps out my sister and listens to music on her iPod, and together they regularly take care of my young nephew – building Lego models and helping him with his school work.

But they are losing their memories, and Mum in particular is aware of how it affects her.  Dad can’t drive since a stroke partly blinded one eye eighteen months ago, and just recently Mum was told she can’t drive anymore because of her memory loss, which may be a good thing as when she was on her own she got lost every now and again.  It has had a massive impact on them, mostly mum as she now can’t do so many things and being around dad all the time is driving her crazy.

This story is familiar to many people, and the question is always what can be done about it?  The answers of course are somewhat complex and best left to specialists, but we’re trying to help where we can, and we’ve found some simple iBrain technology very useful.  For instance – before Mum lost her license she had a GPS programmed with the major places she needed to go, and she loved using it – just following the oral instructions when needed.

Last year Mum and Dad came on a once in a lifetime trip with Jennifer and me to London, Paris, Hong Kong and Macau.  Other than a couple of trips between Australia and Canada since we came to Australia in 1972, they’d never been on any serious overseas trip together.  When they heard we were going, they expressed interest in coming along, which we loved organising with them.  Problem was, after a fabulous four weeks, once back in Brisbane, Mum couldn’t remember anything about the trip, and Dad was perhaps getting a little frustrated having to remind her.  After the trip Mum even avoided our regular family and friends’ BBQs because people would ask her how she enjoyed the trip, and she was embarrassed she didn’t remember.

To help out, Jennifer loaded all the photos from the trip to an electronic Photo Frame, and I set it up to come on automatically each day in their apartment, and mum loves it.  It brings the trip back to life, and she is remembering more and more all the time.  Similarly for their 60th Wedding Anniversary, I took all the photos we got and produced a simple video slide-show for them.  You can see this at https://www.mindwerx.com/jarrard-family-page.

We’ve given Mum an iPad to help remind her when to take medicines, and encourage her to use it more and more for recipes etc.  The aim of course is to do anything that helps keep her mentally active, and make some things a bit simpler so she doesn’t get frustrated and give up.  We’d love to get her doing some of the Age Proof Your Brain exercises, and when Jen is with her, she’ll slip these into their conversations as just a sort of fun discussion.

We hope visiting, talking and doing interesting stuff will help.  It’s hardly advanced memory training, and sometimes we need to accept that memory will suffer, but we hope the little things we are doing will help delay the affects.

So does memory matter?  You bet it does! 

And it’s never too early to start developing good memory skills.  Which is why I’m also helping out the World Memory Sports Council with their current crowdfunding campaign.  Have a look at what they do and join me in supporting the development of memory.  http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/promoting-the-importance-skill-o…

Lastly.  If you have any hints, tips, ideas, and techniques that will help older people overcome memory loss, or fend it off please write them here as a comment.  Thanks