Will you Be a “Memory Architect”?

By Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Who clicked fast forward?

We are quickly moving toward the season when memories are made.  As older adults, we can look back over decades of Hallmark moments. We cherish the traditions that connect the miles and years. What a privilege!

Researchers say that such “exercises in nostalgia” have actual benefits. Memory psychologists indicate that reminiscing can positively impact our mood and outlook. So even before the holidays, today can be a good day. Simply look back and smile.This holiday season, many of us will be among the oldest at family gatherings. But instead of merely recalling the past, intentionally create memories that will stick in the future. Become a “Memory Architect.” Plan moments that you and others will treasure:

  1. Add something new. Researchers say that older people have a decreasing number of new or novel experiences. That’s unfortunate, because when we think back, we remember a lot of “firsts”: first car, first job, first house. Something new forces us to pay attention. A novelty also creates mental activity, a key weapon in our aging arsenal. This Thanksgiving, break the boredom. Serve alternate nut butters on sprouted whole grain dinner rolls or substitute bison burgers for turkey. Instead of pumpkin or mince pie, serve brownies made with coconut flour. Guests will remember your meal for years to come!
  2. Focus on people. People continually leave or enter the circle of life. Individuals are key elements in making memories. Ask your grandson to bring his college buddies for Thanksgiving, then buy a bigger turkey! You’ll fondly recall this holiday. Or, does your church have a growing number of widows? Invite them to bring their holiday stories when they come to dinner. These women will discover what researchers know: reminiscing has a positive impact on mood. Your guests will gratefully recall what could have been a difficult holiday, and you’ll be blessed for your thoughtfulness.
  3. Re-live, review, reprise. Consciously focus on the memory as it unfolds. Stay in the moment, but in a mental note to self say, “I want to remember this.” Snap a photo with your mental camera: Quickly scan your senses: What do you hear, smell or taste? Who’s in the picture? Sensory connections trigger memories. Of course, you can always grab your phone to take an actual picture. Later, if you thank God for these experiences during your bedtime prayer, you’ll automatically force recollection of the people and events from earlier in the day. These intentional actions will help solidify the memory.

Take time now, before getting buried in holiday hoopla, to prepare small touches that will add depth to memory-making. Unroll a completed family tree to use as a table runner. Display family photo albums to trigger cross-generational conversations. Plan to show old family videos on your Smart TV.  Purchase a plain, pre-baked gingerbread house for each family to decorate and then take home.

Being a Memory Architect has a bonus. You not only have the promise of creating a holiday to remember, but you’ll celebrate a meaningful Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2019. So let me be among the first to wish you a memorable and blessed holiday season.