Focus is important as we age

Forget gingko, but remember the nuts

Forget gingko biloba. Experts used to believe it improved memory and enhanced mental ability. A few years ago that herb was a really big deal, but in-the-know memory experts have recently said something resembling "pshaw" to that recommendation.

Gingko's lack of impact on improving recall or preventing dementia was reverified in a 3,000-person study outlined in a December 2009 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association and referenced in this month's issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

So what do we do about our aging memories? What do we do when we realize we put a just-purchased container of milk in the pantry and that two-pack of paper towels in the refrigerator? Should we worry? Nope. Although, if you tend to do that every time you return from shopping for groceries, you might want to get your advice from someone other than me.

Memory difficulties are inherent to aging. They regularly occur for all of us. Every single time I give my presentation, "Memory Difficulties: Should I Be Worried?," and talk about the memory challenges that go with getting older, I see heads nodding and hear a cacophony of stories about forgetting behaviors — and I also learn.

I recently gave an after-church Sunday morning presentation (Ascension Lutheran on Barnett in case you're curious about churches that incorporate education on healthy aging). One lovely elder (let's call her Doris) approached me afterward and asked, "Ever hear of the 242 approach?"

I shook my head and she said, "Two ounces of nuts four times a week adds two years to your life." At least I think that's what she said. I was having a little trouble with my projector following the presentation and was a bit distracted, so I may not have heard her correctly. (As we age, distractions are one of the biggest deterrents to recalling information accurately). But I think I got it right. Actually, I probably did, because that little "242" approach is a "mnemonic device" and a great way to remember something, (How many of you recall learning the treble clef, E-G-B-D-F or "Every Good Boy Does Fine?").

I've observed Doris in action and know she has a very intact memory. Not surprising because she once told me she constantly pushes her cognition with crossword puzzles and other mental stimuli. She stays active in her church and has a good social network. And she has an interested and loving spouse who does the same. (All of that helps with those milk-in-the-pantry issues.)

That "242" conversation tells me Doris was focused on what I was saying during my presentation, because I talked about the importance of nutrition and the role of nuts (almonds and walnuts in particular) in enhancing memory ability.

Focus is critically important as we age. Speaking of focus, it helps to touch the person you're talking to via a handshake, a hug, a hand on the shoulder and look them in the eye. It's easier to pay attention that way. Think of any conversation almost like taking a picture of the moment.

Picture this — a handful of delicious almonds or walnuts. You are smiling as you munch on them.

Smiling broadly — remember that.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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