Yesterday was my birthday. The Big Seven-One. Not that there’s anything special about being 71, but it’s as good a time as any to record some data for my ongoing experiment (see S1E3: ‘My Life Is Now An Experiment’) and reflect upon the changes that have occurred over this past year.
I had just begun writing this blog when I turned 70. My mood was often down as I contemplated the coming decade of cognitive decline (if I was lucky) or dementia (if I wasn’t). What a difference a year makes! Diving into the research to get background information and context for my weekly posts, I soon discovered (to my great delight) that there were things I could do to influence the path my aging brain would take. It changed the focus of this blog from a death watch to a celebration of the emerging science that gives us all hope.
It was around May that I started exercising. Yesterday, I completed my 21st year toward meeting my 30-year goal of being able to jog 2 miles when I’m 80 (see S1E21). Only 9 years to go!
On the downside of that accomplishment, though, I noticed that my speed has dropped pretty dramatically. It was just 6 years ago that I was running 5K races at a 10 minutes/mile clip, which was my normal jogging pace. Now, on the treadmill, a decent pace for me is 13 minutes/mile. I can go 4 miles at that speed with my pulse at a comfortable 139 beats/minute. I can’t, however, even fantasize about kicking the treadmill speed up to 10-minute miles. This is in no way surprising as I know that we slow down as we age, but it’s a bit of a shock to see the numbers in such stark relief.
Around mid-year I changed my diet, incorporating brain-healthy foods, and I began my quest to lose 41 pounds (S1E29). Yesterday, I weighed in at 146…just 1 pound short of my goal.
Cognitively, I think things have actually improved. Is that even possible? Oh, my thoughts still pop in and out of short-term memory Iike characters in a Harry Potter book, but like those characters, they always seem to be there when I need them.
Of late, I rarely walk into a room and forget why I went there (S1E2). I seldom forget doing something just a few minutes after I do it (S1E6). My recall of friends’ and co-workers’ names from the past is much improved (S1E16).
That’s not to say I’m not making errors because I am. I’ll occasionally reach for the granola container and pick up the coffee bean jar instead, or put vinaigrette on Sally’s salad when I know that she prefers ranch, but it just seems like I’m not making as many mistakes as before. Or maybe I’m just becoming used to those kinds of minor slip-ups and I’m not paying attention to them. It’s also possible that I’m incorporating a variety of accommodations (e.g., paying attention, making lists, doing things as soon as I think of them) that are eliminating a lot of potential slip-ups.
Last February, I had cataract surgery on my doctor’s recommendation. Little did I know that I was also doing something that was brain-healthy by eliminating a risk factor for dementia! I immediately noticed the changes in colors and sharpness, all of which was pretty exciting. But in the last few weeks, it seems my vision has gotten even better. Colors seem even more vibrant and rich. I’m distinguishing more shades. I can’t help but wonder what’s causing it. Is it the jigsaw puzzles I do ever day? Or the exercise? Or the diet? Or the combination of all the brain-healthy behaviors I’ve adopted (S1E41)?
The same goes for my hearing. When I listen to music now, I’m picking up a greater richness in each note sung, even in songs I’ve been listening to for 50 years. For the first time, I’m hearing different instruments and can distinguish different voices. Is it because I’m trying to teach myself how to play the recorder? Or listening to music during my workouts? Or is my new regimen cleaning out brain clutter allowing me to recruit more neurons for my listening pleasure?
Perhaps most surprisingly, I think my sense of smell has also improved. Or at the very least, I’m noticing things more, like the scent of coffee beans, the cinnamon I put into Sally’s coffee, and even my granola when I pour it into the bowl each morning.
The fact that I’m picking up on changes in at least 3 of my senses makes me think it’s more likely that the brain-healthy regimen is working its magic.
I haven’t noticed any declines in my ability to organize and execute plans, follow recipes or problem-solve, but what does jump out is that I seem to have a lower frustration tolerance (S1E5). When doing crossword puzzles, I’m quicker than I was a year ago to google an answer if I get stuck. I have less patience with Sally when we miscommunicate. I’ll quit on learning a new piece of music if I don’t see improvement after the first few tries. I’ll keep an eye on that going forward as personality changes are not a good sign. Other than that, my mood is generally ok.
One more thing: my hair is a lot longer…but it’s also a lot thinner! The other day I was running my hand over my head and I felt something cold on my scalp. It was my fingers! I never had that happen before, but then again, my hair has never been this thin before.
Both my grandfathers had male-pattern baldness and so it amazes me that I escaped that fate. For whatever reason—my receding hairline notwithstanding—it’s been a good run. And that’s one more thing for which I am grateful as I begin my seventy-second trip around the sun.