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Coming to Terms with Senior Moments

November 5, 2012

          Coming to Terms with Senior Moments  

If I remember correctly, the phrase “senior moments” was coined in the mid-1990s and has been overused and misused since to cover memory lapses by people of all ages. The upshot is that it has no value expect as sendup fodder for comedians.

Why don’t we have some junior moments? Or some middle-age mindless minutes? Or at least some meaningful phrases to cover the varying types of mental lapses we old-timers have?  These can range from trivial to minor to major.

Minor mental glitches are those we experience when we forget where we left our car keys or glasses or those times when we race upstairs and ask ourselves “What am I here for?” These moments are usually followed by the Aha! Moment, which, like a book mark in your brain, will kick in and provide the answer in no time.

Rather than triggered by a “senior moment,” these incidents often occur when we are distracted and not fully concentrating on our mission at hand.

Major memory problems, by contrast, are nothing to laugh about. These occur when we forget where we put down the grandbaby or forget to pay the bills until the lights go out or forget where we set down that chilled glass of sauvignon blanc we were just sipping. A far cry from senior moments, these could be signs of a major neurological disorder.

The good news is that we are constantly devising techniques for coping with and even slowing down age-related memory loss. I, for one, drive my family crazy by repeating things—a commonly recommended trick for improving memory (at least that’s my excuse). I also use mnemonic devices to remember the names of my grandchildren and their friends and their pets.

A friend of mine who sometimes gets lost while driving will compensate by simply turning around and changing her destination.

Many of us in the post-fifty AARP set laugh off memory glitches with popular ripostes like: “Nostalgia is not what it used to be” or “I don’t remember being absent minded.”  Musician Golf Brooks responds with his hilarious song titled “Senior Moments, Brain Farts.” You can find this on Youtube.

More practical advice for maintaining mental health can be found on health related web sites. The trick is to find respected medical centers and health organizations.  I subscribe to the memory bulletins published regularly by the Johns Hopkins Medical School.  In the latest of these Dr. Peter V. Rabins, editor of the bulletin, recommends  eight steps for keeping our mental agility into senility. These, with some of Dr. Rabins’s comments, are as follows:

One. Treat high blood pressure.  “Over time, hypertension can damage brain cells and trigger mini strokes that may impair memory.”

Two. Eat right. “A balanced diet that contains low-fat dairy products and nine servings daily of fruits and vegetables can improve alertness and energy.”

Three. Exercise regularly. “Better fitness translates into better cognitive function.”

Four.  Drink only in moderation. “People who drink excessively are more likely to develop memory problems.”

Five. Check your medicine cabinet. “Many common prescription medications can impair memory.”

Six. Get enough sleep.  “Sleep deprivation stresses the brain.”

Seven. Stay mentally active. “Learn a new language, play chess, take a class, practice the piano—and read.”

Eight. Protect your head from injury.  “Avoid situations in which you are likely to fall.”

The implication here is that we should avoid climbing ladders when we are alone, or chasing squirrels up trees, or taking up tight-rope walking in our eighties.

Dr.Rabins warns that even if we follow all such advice on good mental health our brains will not revert to “whiz kids level.”  But he and other experts agree that if we follow strategies like the above we can improve our memory and general mental health and feel better in the process.

This still leaves open the question of how we can come to terms with “senior moments.” Most people use the expression with a smile, jokingly. But it’s used so often and so ambiguously it can make us old-timers wonder, “Am I really losing it?”

Perhaps in the future when someone tells us we are having a senior moment, we should ask them to explain exactly what they mean. This will put them on the spot and give us time to remember what in the world we were talking about in the first place. It’s a technique I plan to use—if I can remember to do so.

Gwen Gibson



From → humor

One Comment
  1. Gwen. You reminded of me two things that I find deeply disturbing: 1 – I have an AARP card. 2 – I don’t know where it is.

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