Aging Brains: The “Senior Moment” Comment

As aging children most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Just about any time a person has difficulty remembering something he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, ten years later, it happens more than once a day. I say it too.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a recent Washington Post article, Memory lapses are common and increase with age; when do they signal Alzheimer’s?, published on February 9, 2010. As we get older, our brains become less efficient. However, I have now watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia. As Mother’s condition continued to worsen, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Everyone was worried about dementia. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke.

I’ve concluded that I use the “senior moment” comment and its concomitant humor to defend myself. Each time I forget something or acknowledge an “out of sync” memory the comment serves as a protective shield. Unconsciously or consciously, by acknowledging my forgetfulness I can, in some strange way, not worry and maybe protect myself from the range of insidious diseases that comprise dementia or at least from the fear of it. Check out this recent news report by Dr. Jonathan LaPook, from CBS news, Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s.

The February 9th Washington Post article compares and contrasts behaviors — what the normal brain does and what a declining brain might do. The article labels this “normal vs. problematic behavior.” I’ll list a few behaviors here, but it is well worth going to the Post web site and reading it for yourself.

Mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

For instance, the article points out that misplacing keys is normal and not particularly worrisome. However it is not normal to constantly do strange things with keys on a regular basis (put them in the fridge, or the wastebasket for instance). I remember one sign we noticed with my husband’s mother — she would brush her teeth and then drop the toothbrush in the trash. Parking is another issue that people often worry about. Once or twice a year I park the car at the Mall, go inside and shop, and then wonder where on earth my car is located. The key is that I know what to do. I may know what store I entered or remember a landmark. Most importantly, I will go about looking for my car in some systematic way. I forgot to check where I parked my car because my brain was tired and distracted.

The Mayo Clinic has dementia prevention ideas on its web site. This article at the WebMD web site focuses on behaviors that may help to prevent dementia.  I say “may” because at this point no one really knows.

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