This is the second article in a series on senior moments abstracted from my book, Preventing Senior Moments: How to Stay Sharp Into Your 90s and Beyond.
There are nine types of senior moments that, while distinct, are tied together by information processing errors. The complexity of the relationship is similar to a lesson taught to me by my father when I was a child in the 1950s, and I helped him make sausage in the family grocery store. Every Friday, we gathered meats that had not been sold during the week and dumped them into a grinder. By changing some of the spices or the percentage of pork, beef, or lamb, what emerged was Italian Hot Sausage, Kielbasa, Polish Sausage, Bratwurst, and something my father called “Irving’s Special.”
Think of senior moments as similar to sausages. All senior moments have something in common—they arose because of an information processing error, and like my father’s sausages, they differ in the specifics, like memory, physiology, experience, etc.
Forgetting Names or Numbers
How often have you been at a party, and a person approaches you whose name has inexplicably been stripped from your memory? As the nameless person approaches, your anxiety exponentially increases with each step. The consequence of forgetting a name might be just embarrassment. But other events, like forgetting your husband’s birthday, may affect your relationship.
Repeating Stories/Asking Questions
You are at a party, and someone begins telling a fascinating story about a trip to Alaska. You and most other people listening groan and prepare to hear the story for the second time that night and the fourth time this month. Is it dementia, you wonder? Possibly, but more likely the repetition of the story has more to do with the significance it has in the person’s life.
We all misplace objects. It is a daily occurrence for some people, often involving the same thing. For example, a man lost his glasses almost daily, spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to find them. Fortunately, the glasses always decided to hide in the usual places: at the bottom of his coat pocket, on a kitchen table, or in a drawer.
When a man asked his wife if their dog, George, had been fed, he used a long-deceased pet’s name, followed by the name of another dead dog, then a third, eventually retrieving “George.”
Everyone has experienced problems with tasks that require a series of steps, such as moving a paragraph within a document. For me to do it on my computer, I need to follow six steps:
1. Identify the change I want to make.
2. Determine where I will move the paragraph.
3. Highlight the paragraph, so the computer knows what to move.
4. Cut the paragraph.
5. Locate the insertion point where I want to place the paragraph.
6. Paste the entry.
Sometimes, if the sequence is interrupted for as little as 30 seconds, I forget the reason for initiating the move.
Difficulty Completing Tasks
It is Saturday morning, and you look at a list of unfinished projects accumulating over the last six months. The garage is so disorganized you cannot find any of the necessary tools. The garden, which at one time was your pride and joy, is overgrown with weeds that are sucking the life out of your daffodils. You look at piles of papers on your desk and spot incomplete thank-you notes for a party you gave three months ago. You are so overwhelmed that instead of starting any of the tasks, you curl up in your favorite chair and begin reading a new novel.
A contractor who shopped at Home Depot visited the hardware section so regularly over 30 years that he did not have to think about the location of screws. It seemed as if his legs were programmed to take him to Section 6, Aisle 4, Shelf 2. However, on one particular day, when shopping for screws, he drew a blank on their location.
Differentiating between various types of senior movements may appear needlessly academic. After all, aren’t you just as embarrassed forgetting the name of a cousin as not understanding someone over the phone? Yes, but we don’t differentiate to prioritize embarrassment. As you will learn in later articles, each type says something about how you are processing information, and with that insight, you can prevent senior moments–even your most embarrassing and concerning ones.
In Senior Moments: 3. Memory, you will learn that there are four types of memory, each of which can contribute to your senior moments.