Bernard Mendelman: Losing my marbles and lucky my head is screwed on

We start losing our brain cells and begin forgetting things in our early 20s. It’s a normal part of aging.

The other day while watching TV in my den, I thought it would be nice to have a nosh, so I went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and get some chocolate chip cookies. By the time I got to the kitchen, I forgot what I came there for, but as soon as I returned to the den I had total recall. I’ve reached that age where I often forget minor things. In reflection, I also used to forget things on occasion when I was a kid. When that happened, my father would say to me, “You’re losing your marbles” or “You’re lucky your head is screwed on.”

I often wondered where those expressions originated. To “lose one’s marbles” is to lose one’s mind. I linked the source to the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny where Humphrey Bogart displayed his insanity with marbles when he portrayed the demented Lt. Cmdr. Queeg, restlessly jiggling a set of metal balls when under stress in court. Could “Lucky your head is screwed on” come from the days when beheading was an accepted form of punishment? Today it still is in some countries.

Last week, someone at the mall greeted me by my name. He looked familiar but for that moment I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. That evening while lying in bed, his name suddenly came back to me. When I go shopping for food, I usually forget something that I intended to buy. Sure, I make lists, but then when I get to the supermarket, after searching through all my pockets, I realize that I must have forgotten to take the list with me. Sometimes I forget telephone numbers that I call frequently. Nowadays when paying by credit cards, you mostly just have to tap the machine and not enter your pin number. Recently I was at a merchant who still had an outdated machine and I struggled to recall my pin number. Luckily, on the third try, I got it right. In my defence, I still remember my appointments and deadlines.

They say a sudden dramatic event in your life can cause a temporary memory loss. On the other hand, thanks to a burst of stress hormones, suddenly seeing something upsetting might sharpen your memory and make you more alert. We start losing our brain cells and begin forgetting things in our early 20s. It’s a normal part of aging. But experts say we can slow this age-related memory loss by keeping mentally and physically active. Taking antihistamines for allergies or sleep medication may cause temporary memory problems. Also, cholesterol-lowering drugs can cause mild memory loss and confusion. Green veggies like broccoli, spinach, lentils and peas plus eating lots of fish will enhance your memory. Boozing does not only create confusion but it will make you forget things. Maybe that’s why some of us booze in the first place. Smoking weed causes memory loss, even for a long time after you’ve stopped.

How come I can’t remember what I did yesterday, yet what happened to me 50 years ago remains very vivid in my mind? Like I remember perfectly the following story that was told to me years ago.

Three sisters, ages 88, 90, and 92 all lived together. One night the 92-year-old ran a bath. She put one foot in and paused. “Was I getting in the tub or out?” she yelled. The 90-year-old hollered back, “I don’t know. I’ll come and see.” She started up the stairs and stopped. She shouted, “Was I going up or coming down?” The 88-year-old sitting at the kitchen table having supper, listening to her sisters, shook her head and said, “I sure hope I never get that forgetful,” and knocked on wood for good measure. Then she yelled, “I’ll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who’s at the door.”

Hmm, did I email this column to my editor?

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