The Sage Connection

How your younger relatives can pay it forward

Tell them about "restrictive memory"


I have always felt a special connection to trees. I have no idea why.

I just know that when I am in the presence of a tree, I feel a wave of calm come over me. If I am sad, I feel uplifted. If I am happy, it seems my joy is boundless.

So it is with particular sadness that I must report that a massive tree fell on our porch during last week’s windy weather. The mother tree, previously at least 250 feet tall, still stands at about 150 feet.  The rest of this formerly magnificent monument to the sky is spread across the front of our house, broken in some places but whole in others.

It was a cedar that was only God-knows-how old. It was here long before people or houses. I suppose there are those who would say this tragedy is the way of nature; perhaps they are right. But I mourn the loss of that tree.

It looked so strong – and yet the wind, with even more bravura, brought it down.

The same thing can happen to people. Seniors, especially if they have been isolated from their families since before the pandemic, can deteriorate quickly without the help of the COVID virus.

If you don’t live close enough to see your elders often, you may be suffering from what I call restrictive memory.

Restrictive memory

To me, this phrase simply means we tend to remember them as they were…not actually as they are today.

They may tell you they are doing just fine. But if you do not see them in person, how do you know?

In restrictive memory, they look strong. They still work in the garden, meet friends for dinner, walk the dog, clean and maintain their home. They are as they have always been, just a little older.

In restrictive memory, they don’t seem to have trouble hearing you. They don’t seem to have visual difficulty. They don’t seem to have lost weight, move slower, or have trouble getting out of booths and low chairs.

Restrictive memory doesn't let them appear to be lonely, bored or depressed. In restrictive memory they never seem to change,  which is why reality is such a shock when you do see them in person.

The answer

I have always thought inclusion is the answer. If you live close enough to do so, visit, often. And that includes assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. If they can’t come out, then you go in. Attend their functions. Join them for a meal. Help decorate their door. Meet their friends and neighbors. Be part of their lives.

If they live at home, help with the yard work, house cleaning and laundry. Make an extra serving or two when you fix dinner, freeze it and take it to them. Better yet, take it to them while it is still hot. If they are too frail to attend family functions, take them to their house. Birthdays and holidays can be celebrated anywhere.

It’s the people, not the place, that matters.

Living far away can present a different set of problems, but we can still include our elders. If they have a smartphone or tablet, use an app to include them for special family moments. If they don’t have a phone or tablet get them one and make arrangements for someone on their end to help them use it.

If neither of these is an option, call them daily just to check in. See if the family elder will give you permission to share a copy of their medical visits when they visit their doctor. Help them set up any needed automatic prescription refill delivery with their pharmacy.

Contact their senior center for information about Meals on Wheels and volunteer drivers that can take them to medical appointments.

Get them an alert system that will notify you, a friend or a neighbor or call 911 if help is needed. There are several good ones on the market. I live with my family, but I have one and use it when they want to go off for a day or on longer. It gives us both peace of mind. I don’t feel anxious because I am alone and they don’t worry because they know I have access to help if I need it.

Mail cards for no occasion – not just Christmas and birthdays. Include family pictures, and drawings and notes from the little ones. Include pictures from times when you were all together.

Include them.

One day it will be your turn to be the elder. Set the example bar high for those who will watch and learn and you will enjoy an awesome sunset of your life.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Drutty

    Excellent article and what make of alert system do you use?

    Wednesday, April 13 Report this

  • andersonwrit

    I use Mobile Help - 19.00 a month for the basic plan but they have several additional options.

    Friday, April 15 Report this