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AARP The Magazine

Memory: Is Mine Normal?

I couldn't tell if I was distracted, losing my marbles or both, so I checked into a brain lab to find out. What I learned changed my life

Memory can be quirky

Memory loss is a horrible thing. It makes your life seem even more fleeting than it already is, and it's frustrating, embarrassing and scary. So I'm feeling really anxious as I head back to the institute the following day to hear Fotuhi's diagnosis, hoping his words bring a wide smile to my face.

"You did very well on the cognitive assessment," the doctor tells me after I'm settled in his office. In fact, can I brag? (Who would have thought I could do that about my memory?) I scored near the top of the standardized rankings.


The idiosyncrasies of my memory may be related to my long-ago concussion, Fotuhi says. But he tells me that almost no one gets into midlife years without some mind-threatening history or habits. Besides, memory is a quirky thing.

A poor performance wouldn't necessarily be a tragedy. If I were in the institute's three-month brain fitness program, I'd get intensive treatment for any medical problems, as well as help with nutrition and exercise. Moreover, I'd practice meditation, do biofeedback and get plenty of stimulation from computer games, puzzles and brainteasers.

Fotuhi provides no guarantees (and if a person has Alzheimer's disease, for instance, such remedies certainly won't cure it). But, he says, his multipronged approach almost always brings improvement.

Taking care of your brain

"A lot of people think that if they're having memory problems, their memory is lost and gone for good," Fotuhi asserts. "They don't realize the brain is kind of like their biceps. Both can be toned up at any age."

So even with my impressive scores, Fotuhi offers a preventive prescription: "You should start getting more sleep — and exercise," he tells me. Meditation would be a big help, too, he says, especially when I'm feeling stressed. I should also do something nice for myself every day — happiness is very good for the brain. All those changes should get my hippocampus as big as possible, creating a buffer against the ravages of time.

Since my trip to the brain health clinic, I've been following this advice: living the clean, well-rested, well-exercised life, or at least trying to. I've noticed that I'm having fewer moments when I feel as if I've lost my mind in the haze of my exhaustion. And I feel better than I have in years.

The fact is, I'm discovering that what's good for the brain is good for the body, and for the psyche, too. I figure the way I'm living now will give me the best chance possible to look back on my life when I'm nearing the end — and actually remember it.

Lisa Davis is deputy editor at She has written for Health, Reader's Digest, Vogue and other publications.

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BRAIN HEALTH: Memory loss and brain decay as you get older can now be slowed, or even reversed.

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