Retirement Redesigned

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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

HomeMemoryBetter memory and memories as we age

Better memory and memories as we age

Taking care with our memories

Memory is a key indicator of wellness in retirement

A note from Johann

All of us experience memory lapses from time to time. We make fun of it by joking about a ‘senior moment’ when we can’t remember a name or some detail of a story. Or when we can’t remember where we left our keys or our glasses or a multitude of the details that govern our lives. For some of us, it becomes only an increased difficulty that can still be managed with the help of loved ones and friends. For others, it can develop into a more serious diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimers, which may leave us unable to manage our day to day lives independently. This is a frightening prospect which leaves many people ignoring what they fear may be early signs when, in fact, there are many manageable and treatable reasons for which it is prudent to seek help. Not least of all to halt of slow down the progress of an ailment.

In our recent webinar with Dr Christo Coetzee, an experienced and well-regarded neurologist, he indicated that there are various measures we can take to ward off general cognitive decline and even the onset of more serious illnesses. The first most obvious one is to have a healthy active lifestyle. Regular exercise and movement are very important. The second is active mental stimulation; learning new skills and being sufficiently curious to seek stimulating activities and adventures. Most importantly, his third piece of advice is to nurture relationships. This means to renew contact with old friends and relatives and to build new relationships by joining a club or society where you can have contact with other members and even to seek out new intergenerational friendships.

The healthy lifestyle Dr Coetzee refers to includes a good diet and an overall healthy way of eating. He referred specifically to the destructive effect of alcohol on the brain.

For the more fortunate people heading into retirement, and this is the biggest group, the pleasure of a healthy memory enables them to have happy memories and the recollection of life’s peak moments. Telling the stories and retelling them with the benefit of photographs and videos captures many of the best moments of life.

Building memories is the key aspect of adventures and holidays. It may be an international cruise or climbing some challenging mountain, or sailing a yacht into a big competition. Or it can simply be a special celebration with your children or grandchildren. Experiences like these and the memory of them are what make life, in retrospect, totally worthwhile. Click here to watch the full webinar

Click here to watch the webinar on our Facebook page

Memories have both a neurological as well as a psychological element. As we get older we can enjoy looking back on memories of our lives and let these help us make decisions about our our future and what we would still like to do. We also need our guard our memory with good habits and practices while being aware which signs of forgetfulness are natural and which might indicate a need for professional intervention. Take a walk down memory lane with us as we explore the importance of memories as we age.

Our top 3 article picks this week:

What is Memory?

How memories help us

Woman smelling a fruit to symbolise smell bringing fond memories

Our take:
This comprehensive and practical article looks at everything from what memories are to how we form and organise and store them. It also helps us understand what we can do to protect our memory and even improve it where possible.

Article excerpt:
How Long Do Memories Last?
You can’t discuss what memory is without also talking about how long memories last. Some memories are very brief, just seconds long, and allow people to take in sensory information about the world.

Short-term memories are a bit longer and last about 20 to 30 seconds. These memories mostly consist of the information people are currently focusing on and thinking about.

Some memories are capable of enduring much longer—lasting days, weeks, months, or even decades. Most of these long-term memories lie outside of immediate awareness but can be drawn into consciousness when needed.

Organizing Memory
The ability to access and retrieve information from long-term memory allows us to actually use these memories to make decisions, interact with others, and solve problems. But in order to be retrievable, memories have to be organized in some way.

One way of thinking about memory organization is the semantic network model. This model suggests that certain triggers activate associated memories.

Seeing or remembering a specific place might activate memories that have occurred in that location.

Certain stimuli can also sometimes act as powerful triggers that draw memories into conscious awareness. Scent is one example. Smelling a particular smell, such as a perfume or fresh-baked cookies, can bring forth a rush of vivid memories connected to people and events from a person’s past.

In order to identify a scent, a person must remember when they have smelled it before, then connect it to visual information that occurred at the same time. So, when areas of the brain connected to memory are damaged, the ability to identify smells is actually impaired.

At the same time, researchers have found that scent can help trigger autobiographical memories in people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

This underscores just how powerful memories can be.
Click here to read the full article on

Memory, Forgetfulness, and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

A hand with a rope tied around the index finger

Our take:
We all have moments of forgetfulness. We forget words, forget details, forget dates – but that’s normal right? Well, this artilce by the National Institute on Aging helps to clarify when forgetfulness is just that, and when we might need to pay closer attention.

Article excerpt:
What’s normal forgetfulness and what’s not?
What’s the difference between normal, age-related forgetfulness and a serious memory problem? It’s normal to forget things once in a while as we age, but serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving, using the phone, and finding your way home.

Talk with your doctor to determine whether memory and other cognitive problems, such as the ability to clearly think and learn, are normal and what may be causing them.

Signs that it might be time to talk to a doctor include:

• Asking the same questions over and over again
• Getting lost in places a person knows well
• Having trouble following recipes or directions
• Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
• Not taking care of oneself —eating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely
Click here to read the full list and article on

Watching Too Much TV is Linked to Poorer Memory in Older Adults

Image of a TV unit

Our take:
One thing we look forward to in retirement is greater time freedom and being able to do with our time what we choose. The reason we talk so much about purpose is that it keeps us from falling unnecessarily into harmful habits and engaging in them excessively. Watching TV certainly has its place, but excessive watching also has its side effects, as explained in this article.

Article excerpt:
Assessing TV Viewing
To learn more about the effects of watching TV, a pair of researchers from the United Kingdom analyzed data from 3,662 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a long-term study of UK residents aged 50 and older (average age 67) that collects information on health and lifestyle habits.

Excessive TV Viewing Tied to Poorer Memory
Those who watched TV for three and a half hours or more per day had an average decline of 8 to 10 percent in word- and language-related memory, compared with a 4 to 5 percent average decline for those who watched less than three and a half hours. No links were found between TV viewing time and differences in fluency.

Researchers also found that as television viewing went up, scores went down, a link that persisted even after researchers adjusted for income and sedentary behavior other than watching TV.

Possible Theories
The authors suggested that watching TV may impact verbal memory through “cognitive stress,” which refers to programs with graphic, violent, or suspenseful content.

Another theory is that if people spend more time watching TV, they are less likely to engage in “cognitively beneficial activities,” such as reading, playing board games, and cultural pursuits.
Click here to read the details for each strategy in the full article on

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Image of an elderly woman on her tablet

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Other highlights for the week:

Most Popular Daily Thought

How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start when memory plays an old tune on the heart!
Our memories are closely linked to our senses. One of the reasons for this is that the anatomy of our brain allows signals from scent to travel to the limbic system quickly which is responsible for emotional responses. Music is also an emotive hook and can give us reminders of past times and feelings. No. wonder then that people so enjoy hearing tunes from decades past. When last did you enjoy a trip down memory lane inspired by your music collection? Tell us which decade’s music you find most evocative. We’d love to know.
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Quote by Eliza Cook – How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start when memory plays an old tune on the heart!

Weekly Question

Last week’s question:
Which scent, flavour or sound evokes some of your favourite memories?
• The smell of fresh cut grass.
• Turkey dinner – family memories – smells like Christmas.
• Strawberries heating in a pan – reminds me of my Mum making jam.
• Bacon reminds me of sleepovers at my my grandparents. Mmmm.
• Smells of fresh tomato sauce cooking on a Sunday morning.
• The smell of cookies baking.
• The song “Climb every mountain” from The Sound of Music.
• The song “I see Fire” from Chris de Burgh.
• Music from the 80’s. Love New Wave.
• Music from the sixties.
• The 80’s and 90’s music.
• Jim Reeves songs.

This week’s questions:
What is your dream retirement travel adventure?
Click here to answer the question in our Facebook group


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Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.