Got Memory? – Part I
Saturday, September 24, 2011 4 Comments
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Memory, Aging and ADD
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
See also: Senior Moments? – The Heartbreak of CRS
My sleep disorder has me out of phase with the rest of America again. Bummer!
Since, of late, I seem to be asleep when the rest of America is up and at’em, awake when it seems that all the world’s aslumber, there’s not much to distract me from reading and research – so I’ve been reading a lot lately!
One of the few good things about Living with JetLag™ is that there are periods of time when I can do little else but dive into books I have been too busy to read while I scrambled to catch up with everything missed “off-phase” during those precious times when I am “on-phase” with the rest of you earthlings.
A number of books have come out in the past few years exploring what happens to our brains as we age. Several are exploring “normal” changes, others are looking at brain disorders that seem to strike at middle-age, most notably Alzheimers.
Other than mentioning the link between aging and sleep struggles, which I will explore in another series of posts, the primary focus of most of the books I’m currently ingesting concerns the processes of memory: what happens when they work as expected, and what happens when they don’t.
Two I just finished are:
- Barbara Strauch’s The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain
- Cathryn Jakobson Ramin’s Carved in Sand
- when attention fails and memory fades in midlifeThe timing seems suddenly right for a series of articles on memory and ADD, but before I get into the details, I need to get something off my chest.
A Double Edged Sword
While these two books are fascinating reading on the one hand, and consistent with what I’ve been putting together for over twenty years now, the effect on my emotions due to my reading on this topic has been like a double-edged sword: it cuts both ways.
One edge is thrilling – as millions of Baby Boomers are reaching the age where they are experiencing attention and short-term memory deficits en masse — similar to what we ADDers have been describing for DECADES, by the way — there is real cause for celebration. There will finally be enough economic incentive to fund a greater number of studies that might actually discover what’s going on — which will help ALL of us!
It seems to be happening already. New research studies exploring brain-based memory dysfunctions are suddenly popping up every day, it seems.
FINALLY, there seems to be an all-out attempt to understand what’s going on and to develop work-arounds to make life easier, possibly to repair or reverse whatever it is that causes the problem (mostly pharmaceutical, natch – but personally, I’m grateful for relief due to ANYTHING that makes a positive difference - and you will be too when you reach the age where you have to live with “ADD” symptoms yourself!!!)
It seems, at least from these two books, that we’re on the cusp of an attitudinal sea-change: the general populace will be looking a bit more kindly at medications that work in the brain and the people who take them, now that so many MORE people are struggling.
It’s heartening to think that new medications in the pipeline will be embraced by the entire aging Boomer populace as miracle drugs. That stands out in sharp contrast to the scorn and suspicion thrown the way of ADD meds and everyone involved with them for decades.
Hallelujah! About damn time!
A little less Dangerfield!
I’m finally about to get some respect from my “vanilla” friends, unflavored by ADD, who’ve always considered me “lovable but dingy.” For the first time in my life, the shoe will be on the other foot. Thanks to several decades of sherlocking and practice, I will be functioning better than THEY are!
Larry, a sixty-something friend of mine exclaimed recently:
Is THIS what it’s like to have ADD?
I’m forgetting names of people I’ve known for YEARS.
I can’t remember where anything IS — it seems I spend half my day on a hunt.
My sense of direction has all but disappeared. My vocabulary’s fading.
I can’t get anything done - I forget what I’m doing WHILE I’m doing it.
HOW does anybody live like this!”
And if I ever needed proof that ADDers are so much kinder than vanillas, I didn’t even have to bite my tongue to keep from giving Larry the canned advice he had been throwing my way for years, rah-ther dismissively I might add!
Lest I rest on my moral superiority too solidly, I must also admit that I DID have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, Suddenly not such a big joke now that YOU have to deal with it, IS IT, kiddo?!!
Which brings me to the other edge of that sword.
The other edge is MADDENING: it made me extremely angry. Furious, actually! After twenty years of ADD Advocacy with precious little understanding to point to as the result of all my energy and effort, I think I may be reaching a tipping point in my willingness to smile benignly and explain again nicely. Be warned!
On the OTHER hand . . .
Those of us with Attentional Spectrum Disorders and Executive Functioning Deficits have been struggling with these problems our entire lives, to undeserved and unkind public ridicule and general disbelief.
NOW they’re suddenly a problem worth exploring seriously and writing books about?
What is it about humans beings that causes most of them to
endeavor to understand ONLY when they experience it personally?
Narcissism? Mirror Cell deficits? Magical Thinking? Arrogance?
Wait! Let me say that more strongly:
What is it about humans beings that causes them to BELIEVE
what others say is going on ONLY when they experience it personally?
THAT one’s gotta’ be arrogance, pure and simple!
And try as I might, turning page after page of these books, reading their prose explaining how frustrating all these “late life” symptoms are for them, following them on their research trails from scientist to doctor, I wanted to smack them for their arrogance as urgently as I wanted to throw a snide I told you so at my friend Larry.
These are not new problems. These are not new directions for research.
And these problems CERTAINLY don’t deserve sudden credibility because
Executive Functioning deficits suddenly cropped up in lives that never
had to deal with these problems before!
Credit Where Credit is Due
There are, by my count, 18 million or more people in the United States alone who have been trying to fashion lives worth living for YEARS, coping with Executive Functioning deficits that are relatively new to the authors of Carved in Sand, and The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain.
Reading the author’s descriptions of these late-life problems that were so disconcerting was like reading the descriptions of the struggles and frustrations experienced by those with diagnostic Attentional issues in almost every single one of the ADD books in my Executive Functioning library.
You know — that ADD people like to say
doesn’t really exist, is over-diagnosed,
over-medicated, and not that big a problem.
And I have to tell you that it’s a real challenge to drum up sympathy for these Johnny-come-lately functional fears and struggles, or admiration for their optimistic resolve, knowing that both authors were able to write from a backlog of decades of functional ease that most ADDers would trade ten years of their lives to have experienced.
It is ESPECIALLY hard for me to join the applause of the columnists and talk-show hosts when I realize that these authors haven’t a clue about what might have happened to the trajectory of their lives if they’d never been able to count on functioning one whit better than they do on their worst days now that they are older and less cognitively nimble.
- Would they have the wherewithal to go trotting from interview to interview,
financial and otherwise?
- Would they have been able to jump through their educational hoops?
- How about the negative impact on their relationships, their credit scores,
their abilities to keep their home-fires burning, and the hit to their self confidence?
Forgetting about the past, let’s take a look at the climate surrounding their struggles in the present tense.
- Nobody’s ridiculing their experiences or their desires for control of their relatively new symptoms;
- Nobody’s suggesting they wouldn’t have a problem if they just tried harder, or
- Really WANTED to do what they say they suddenly find difficult.
- Nobody’s accusing them of hyperbolizing or of drug seeking behavior.
*ALL* of which those of us with ADD have had to contend with for our ENTIRE lives.
Good for the Goose, BAD for the Gander?
Yet, even as authors, and studies, and personal reports explain the severity of the impact of their symptoms on their lives and extole their recently received explanations of the virtues of early intervention on overall brain-functioning (especially where memory is concerned), there are articles and books and blogs and smart-alec broadcasters scaring parents away from medications designed to mitigate the effects of Executive Functioning Disorders in children.
HOW DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE?
Don’t those high-handed bozos understand that with memory impairments,
LEARNING is impaired?
Not just “book-learning” — ANY learning.
And life itself is game that must be learned.
Learning relies on memory consolidation – moving short term memories of recent experience deeper into the brain pudding, categorized for ease of retrieval when needed for recombination. Sometimes medication is necessary to create the neurochemical “soup” that came as “standard equipment” for those with vanilla brains, allowing the consolidation process to proceed unimpeded.
Not every ADD brain needs medication, not all ADD brains respond to medication, and ALL substances have side effects (“herbals” too!). So if systems, structure, exercise, better nutrition, and the avoidance of foods that trigger sensitivities will work for your ADDer (or for you), CLEARLY that’s your choice!! However, just because some ADDers can manage without medication is no reason to assume that ALL could.
SOME diabetics gain control with diet and exercise alone, and some require insulin.
- Nobody rails against Eli Lilly for their profit motive
- Nobody makes fun of individuals who use the product that Lilly pharmaceuticals developed
- Nobody accuses the parents of diabetics of doping their kids with pharmaceutals because it is “more convenient.”
So how come the same principles aren’t applied to ADDers
and the medications that help manage cognition?
YOU HEARD IT HERE:
ADD medications are NOT designed to keep kids’ little bodies STILL, mouths quiet, butts in chairs, eyes forward (in other words, as the ADD-ignorant like to claim, “sedated – for the ‘conventience’ of grownups ‘too lazy’ to parent them adequadely“).
ADD is best managed with stimulant medication.
Stimulants don’t “sedate,” they energize.
Psychostimulants are first-line ADD medications because that class of medication changes neurochemistry in a manner that will focus their BRAINS so that these kids are ABLE to attend, register, remember, recombine and LEARN!
What is often referred to as the “paradoxical effect” of stimulants on the behavior of ADDers occurs because the meds “wake up” a part of the brain that’s sluggish (the pre-frontal cortex), so that the other parts of the brain can calm down once they are relieved of their attempt to compensate for less than adequate executive functioning as a result of a sluggish pre-frontal cortex.
Yep! What many misidentify as “sedation” is actually access to an ability to control behavior that was formerly out of control.
So, now that I’ve gotten all THAT off my chest, I’m ready to move forward with a lot of information about memory that will make it easier for anybody to understand what they need to be able to drive the brains they were born with, ADDers, neurotypicals, and aging boomers alike.
In the rest of the articles in this series, we will explore the secret life of the ADD brain as well as the grown up brain, the childhood brain and the aging brain, so that you can begin to understand what you need to do and why you need to do it to allow attention and memory to be carved in something a little more solid than sand.
Meanwhile, America, PLEASE, take a sober look at your attitudes toward ADD, get off your high horses, get off our backs, and throw a little support, empathy and understanding OUR way.
Not only do our feelings get hurt by your make-wrong and snide comments, your censure makes it all the harder for us to manage — especially when the same behavior you seem to believe WE could and should overcome is forgiven and compensated for in individuals with Executive Functioning deficits acquired later in life.
ADD, ADD Meds & Memory Related articles
- Senior Moments? – The Heartbreak of CRS - mgh
- Maintaining Cognitive Vitality - mgh
- Remember: Better Attention = Better Memory (Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA on the ADDA site)
- RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms INDEED! - mgh review of Sir Ken Robinson TED talk
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- Drug Could Make Aging Brains More Youthful? (news.nationalgeographic.com)
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- Dot Earth Blog: Growing Pains in Maturing Brains and Global Networks (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain (planoreads.wordpress.com)
- Review: Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein (fatbooks.org)
- Techniques to help improve your memory (abclocal.go.com)
- How to Improve Your Memory & Exercise Your Brain (lifeskillsguru.wordpress.com)