(9) Can Working Memory Work for Seniors?

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Have you slammed onto ruts or slipped into any boring routines lately? Have you insisted on one way only to see memory loss as we age? If so do get ready  for a fun new adventure that involves our magnificent working memory at any age! If memory feels more like an etch-a-sketch, where you shake your head and wipe out all your thoughts, you may simply be tired, or depressed, or stressed. That’s how brains work. When critical, stressed or anxious, our brains default to past problems and fixed mindsets.

As we practice growth mindset choices, our awareness grows for what state we are in, and how to shift from closed to open-minded possibilities. Rather than beat up on ourselves whenever we “forget” or insist on our more familiar, fixed problematic approaches to memory, we can choose a growth mindset approach to remembering more. Such a growth mindset shift increases our serotonin aha chemicals, and will also likely have us laughing at the little things we may forget along our way. It frees us from criticism or perfectionism and opens us up to genuine growth, as well as acceptance of best memory functions.

Let’s say we’d like to learn a new technology such as Instagram, or accept an invitation to propose a digital innovation. Regardless of age, both cases  take more working memory, and both rely less on traditions or habits that pop up from our brain’s comfort zones.

Ready to propel your life, learning and leadership to new heights as a senior? Or would a day of feeling good about our memory’s  resilient capabilities as we age work. Let’s tap into the wonder of  working memory, and discover together how best to let go of robotic routines in exchange for delightful new adventures. How so?

First we’ll look at working memory, which is a short term memory meant to position new information up front, so other parts of our brain can use it to problem solve. It’s a bit like placing a sticky note on our brain, that allows us to keep intelligence fluid and to raise our IQ across a wider range of capabilities. It’s about the joy of learning anything of interest, with a growth mindset, and in fun ways we enjoy most as we age.

Neglect Working Memory and the Joy of Learning Stops

Our unique problem-solving working memory equipment not only increases focus, it  offers us new ready-to-use facts we need most at any given moment. While it takes a few skills to use it well, we possess two types of short-term memory. On one hand, it’s a notepad of sorts, with key verbal and spatial hints written there when we reach for them.

Don’t be deceived by its small size when our working memory offers us only one info bit at a time, because its mental capacity holds that key fact while we use it to help resolve complex problems. Yes, it takes a growth mindset here, or an openness to take in and consider applying new or upgraded facts.

Be Aware of Hot Spots

Check out recent research at Monitor on Psychology to see why working memory problems and possibilities are hot spokes that drive intelligent teams at any age.

Watch resilience at work today from seniors who lead people and projects past tough places, and we’ll see amazing solutions illuminated by this mental miracle, working memory.

Beyond Simply Getting Jobs Done

Do we operate from a senior-living-as-usual approach, or do we pack on our growth mindset to expect  wonders that come daily to help us learn, risk, lead, and propose new alternatives?

Unlike our brain’s basal ganglia that defaults into habits and routines and slides us into ruts, the working memory springs us forward to triumph in life-changing opportunities.

How can we lead creativity and adventures with the working memory in mind at any age? It starts with an awareness of working memory’s role in our daily lives.

How Working Memory Kicks In

Unless looking for lost golf balls, that hide behind bushes and hold up fellow golfers –we’ll   stay with a thing until we find it. Look for innovative answers on opposite sides of issues, for instance, to uncover new possibilities that address ruts, routines or problems!

The brain’s working memory kicks in to land life-changing dreams, when we GO FOR IT. On the flip side of waiting for windfalls – winners run with What if … possibilities – and working memory lands delightful new deals. Surprisingly, it’s much the same process for teens and seniors here. How so?

Perhaps we can identify with J-Mac, an autistic teen who ran for his chance at a dream, when his basketball coach finally invited him off the bench after his team lost yet another devastating shot. In the coach’s mind this game could not be won anyway. But J-Mac wondered what if he could score – in spite of the fact he’d never before been allowed off the bench.  With all hope to win lost, the coach pointed to J-Mac, who suddenly shocked an entire nation.  As if Magic Johnson shot, he scored 20 points in the final four minutes. Working memory kicked in and an autistic teen won the title for Greece Athena High School. Nobody except this alert teen expected it. In fact, when denied a place on his dream team, J-Mac  agreed to serve as water boy, cheer leader, and captain just to participate. Can we see the barriers sometimes faced in senior years as similar to J-Mac’s obstructions?

In Spite of Setbacks Our Growth Mindset Holds Onto Our Dreams

A resilient what if question led J-Mac to win gold on his first time off the bench, and the same brain equipment will kick in for us seniors. Working memory triggered a best selling book with Daniel Paiser titled,  The Game of My Life: a True Story of Struggle, Triumph and Growing Up Autistic. We may not end up on CNN as J-Mac did, but imagine a novel initiative stoked.

Wins rarely take as long as we think, and often come with more missteps than we expect. J-Mac put it this way, “My first shot was an air ball. Then I missed a lay up., and then as soon as the second shot, as soon as that went in, I started to catch fire.”

Working memory helps to keep our brains alive, especially as we use it to tackle and address complex concepts.

Think like a Genius

Ask what if, and we set the stage to  jump in with two feet? Yes, power up both sides of our brain, as J-Mac did in last few seconds of that losing game. From the second he suited up, J-Mac expected gold. Others saw an autistic player enter an already lost game.  J-Mac spotted an opportunity and his working memory did the rest to set up a win.   It’s the same working memory that let those few see J-Mac’s genuine talent, and that lets us seniors see our strengths and help others to look beyond setbacks.

Forget Past Failures

Rather than focus on our regrets, we seniors can rev up winning brainpower as this teen did, by mentally reinventing novel approaches to problems that may even hold other seniors back. What if questions open success opportunities, one brain cell at a time. Stoke curiosity for what could be, and our brain’s creative capability begins to convert ordinary steps into winning strategies.

Brain gurus would say J-Mac generated new neuron pathways to achieve his dream. Whatever you call this mental reboot, it takes less effort and adds more dividends to a day than most of us predict for our senior experiences. What if we triumphed though, much as J-Mac did, over one challenge today? What if we used our working memory to learn a new approach to side-step and old habit?

Why let our brain’s basal ganglia default us into boring routines or slide us into ruts, when our  working memory can spring us forward to triumph in life-changing opportunities. Worth a risk?

Outsource Memory to Remember Basics

List to-do tasks and we outsource our memory to retain key facts. Research shows several reasons our memory fades such as: stress, pregnancy or menopause, thyroid problems, some drugs, depression, long-term excessive drinking, normal aging, concussion or head injury. Some seniors retain more memory than others and the following tactics help us to do just that.

Here’s the skinny: the flip side of forgetting is to develop tactics that jog memory, calm our thoughts and help us retrieve forgotten facts.

We also prime alertness when we: eat light and avoid fats and sugars before a talk or presentation; stay calm and link what we hear to what we already know about the topic; attach a small hook onto our keys and snap them onto a belt or bag when not using; tell somebody else about these tips and tools to improve memory.

Did you know that to teach a thing at the same time we learn it, helps us retain 90% more of what we learn. Not bad returns for a simple lesson to help a forgetful senior friend. If we thank people around us for anything they do in our favor, we also increase drugs that fuel wellbeing in ways that can open our brain to retrieve lost memories. Let’s consider these strategies in a bit more detail and with a few examples that impact our senior lives.

In spite of great books about memory and the brain’s amazing ability to remember, we seniors still search frantically for keys as we fly out the door. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Books such as, How to Develop a Perfect Memory, by Dominic O’Brien, work well for those interested in remembering things like an entire deck of playing cards. And drawing from neuro-discoveries you can learn or create brain based tools to retrieve facts when you need them. How so?

Overlook keys? – Every time you put them down, snap them onto a bag you usually carry.
Forget names? Use them a few times to address the person soon after hearing the name.
Fishing for facts to ace a test? Draw simple pictures with details, as you read or study these facts.
Forget directions to Martha’s house and end up at Harry’s instead? Jot down street names and left or right turns.

Avoid Sluggish by Rethinking Our Senior Wisdom! Surprisingly, forgetfulness often comes more from the ways we train our brains – often by default – to think a bit more like slugs, than seniors. Frustration tends to follow, whenever we’re expected to perform like a race horse, and yet seem to head from the gates with our brains defaulting to slugs.

Seniors who override the brain’s default for forgetting, tend to remember more when we reach into memory for names, keys, or directions. Do you?

Forgetfulness can follow from everyday choices we all make, that rewire your synapses against remembering. Here are five surefire ways to empty key facts from our memory, while prompting people around us to expect we’ll likely forget again in future:

1. Eat a heavy meal before we give a talk and we’ll have to call our brain back to attention, for every bite it’s now working hard to digest. We just assigned our brain to the busy role of digesting. With a brain’s shifted focus,  how can we expect facts to pop up simply because we’re next on the speaker’s list.

2. Panic when key words flee, and we teach our minds to misfire or defend  panic, more than to create new neuron pathways to memory we need. Still looking for keys to open that door? One way to remember, is to hook keys onto the same familiar place. Panic may seem far faster on a busy day, but it robs brainpower from remembering?

3. Flip our keys into any corner nearby, and our brain fails to record the chaos created from constantly changing locations. Disorganized seniors simply see tossing things around as part of getting on with their day, the brain. Unfortunately, disorder builds a basal ganglia in the brain for confusion – so it’s no wonder a poor brain fails to remember the last dark hole’s location.

4. Tell ourselves that memory leaks out with age, and watch our brain abandon dynamic plasticity and live up to our expected loss. That way our brain abandons its natural proclivity to remember and takes on the easier role of the slug we’ve assigned it. Remember, our brain is shaped by what we expect of it, and memory’s limited each time we perpetuate memory misconceptions. Eventually a new reality hard-wires in and we’ll forget what’s needed to keep our senior brains fueled and well oiled. We’ll forget that memory’s more about use it or lose it than about age.

5. Blast somebody near us for our lost keys, and our mind fills with the stress hormone, cortisol, that precludes remembering where they’re hiding. Cortisol comes with angry words, and shuts down the brain’s help to remember. Anger leaves us alone to find our damn keys again, on our own – without memory’s keen guidance. Has it happened?

Research supports common reasons that memory can fade and we can come up with strategies to avoid each:

For stress … ?

Menopause … ?

Thyroid problems … ?

Some drugs … ?

Depression … ?

Long-term excessive drinking … ?

Normal aging … ?

Concussion or head injury … ?

We’ll remember here that the flip side of memory loss – is to develop tactics that sharpen memory when we need it most. For example, hook new fact onto something already known. Whenever we link ideas to something familiar, we hang new knowledge hats onto familiar hooks inside our senior cranium. See why it sticks?

When new facts hook onto known facts, our brain remembers where to find both. Has it happened to you? Take the lost keys, discussed earlier.  I hook keys in the same place daily and luckily haven’t had to search for years. What do we hope to remember better today?

People far younger than us waste endless hours looking for lost keys, while new research about memory and aging brains brings amazing good news monthly for those who use its tools.

Memory tactics simply free up our working memory  to focus on integrating these new facts in innovative and fun ways that  solve real-life problems in our senior years.

Since working memory holds new facts a very short time, we may wish to  sketch the fact in a quick image or diagram next to its meaning.

Learned forgetfulness can be turned around today into a new brain based memory tool for tomorrow. New research about plasticity enables us to rewire our brain nightly as we sleep. It’s based on activities we do in memory’s favor that day. In other words, try any of the tips above, and that action alone will build new dendrite cell changes for remembering.

Try any of the new tricks below and we’ll jog our memory to  calm down and retrieve facts we can rely on.

What if we start small here just for the fun of remembering – and then try one that adds zip to your day.

a. Eat light and avoid fats and sugars before a talk, presentation or a think tank.

b. Stay calm and link what we hear to what we already know so when we hear a name we’ll link it to a feature on a person’s face. I once met a guy called “Harry Bignose,” who had a hairy nose the size a country pump. OK – that one was easy.

c. Attach a small hook onto our keys and snap them onto a belt or bag, but make sure it is the same place repeatedly, so our brain grows new neuron connectors for finding keys in the same place.

d. Tell somebody else about these tips and tools to improve memory. Did we remember that to teach a thing at the same time you learn it, helps us retain 90% more of what we learn. Not bad returns for a simple lesson to help a sometimes forgetful senior.

e. Thank people around us for anything they do in our favor. That way our brain runs on serotonin, a hormone that fuels well being, and opens the brain to peak memories, just as anger can teach the senior brain to forget.

Did I just say we can teach our brain to forget?  OK, it’s true … and now the secret is out. Our brain operates more by how we use it, than by our age. Good news for those who plan more than gracious and expect to age voraciously – with memory in tact.

Teens also love to use these 25 brain based study skill tips to learn more, in less time, and with fun strategies, that draw more from their awesome brains.


Two – Footed Questions to Address Mita Growth Mindset Senior Sessions

1). Does memory feel more like an etch-a-sketch, where you shake your head and forget your thoughts?

2). Why outsource my working memory and how does it help?

3). How can we remember more names?

4). What’s so magical about working memory?

5). How can we take more advantage of working memory?

6). How would you characterize the namungo  (fictional character with real brain parts) WM?

7). How can we improve our working memory?

8). How can we get more from memory in general, by outsourcing parts? 

FINAL Question:  What’s one activity we can do to remove a fixed mindset and add a growth mindset for this topic? A fixed or closed mindset will focus more on problems such as age as it links to memory and will likely blame forgetfulness on being too old, so that we should expect to forget. So it’s no surprise that we close our minds when we are down, too busy or impacted by the toxic chemical, cortisol, which keeps our inner critic alive and attacking us.

In contrast, an open or growth mindset will consider a deliberate change for a more creative approach in how we capitalize on working memory effectiveness at any age. Let’s say we encounter a detailed list of things to do when learning a new craft, or baking a new dessert. Create and jot down one significant or descriptive key word for each detail or operation we hope to remember. Then expect that word list to trigger our memory for the entire detail. In other words we outsource our working memory for a complex task, by creating a list of up to 10 key brief words to describe the entire task. Be specific and if needed ask for clarification if a key step gets left out of our list.