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The Second Half: Senior moments make my day

March 9, 2011

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

You’ve heard it a million times: “I went into the kitchen to get something and stood there for ages, trying to remember what it was I wanted—another ‘senior moment’!”

In my Second Half, I have taken to writing lists and using a planner just to keep the anxiety of those “senior moments” from freaking me out. On the other hand, my friend, Second-Half pal Millie, says, “Senior moments have saved me from untold stress—you can’t worry about what you don’t remember!”

I have noticed that I get those “senior moments”—“What did I come in here for?” or “What the hell is her name?”—more often when I am multi-tasking: mopping the floors while I’m cooking up some homemade soup and doing a few loads of laundry in between. I blame it on my brain, the poor thing, because I abuse it by pushing the envelope regarding how much information it can process at one time.

Last week, I was railing against the injustices of computers: they lock up when we need them; they go slow when we’re in a hurry; and they are generally uncooperative at the most inconvenient times. Hubby offered this advice: “You’re asking too much of it all at once; slow down and let it finish one task before you ask it to process another. Don’t be in such a hurry.”

OK, I can’t understand how computer brains have made it possible to cook a whole chicken in 10 minutes or send a space probe to Mars, but it seems my expensive laptop “brain” can’t process my e-mail and Bing searches at the same time. If I spend a grand on technology, the least it can do is keep up with me! I was once told the original computer was directly modeled after the human brain, but I wonder: could their model have been a Second-Half brain?

My brain used to be able to keep up with me, although I admit to a lifetime of certain mental flaws like not remembering people’s names. I could so relate to the multi-tasking gal in the song: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man…” But lately, like my computer, my brain seems to be “locking up” at the most inconvenient times. What’s that about?!?

Sue Sklar, manager of consumer education for the Alzheimer’s Association, holds workshops about that subject, outlining the difference between a “senior moment” and a legitimate concern such as Alzheimer’s. The organization’s website (www.alz.org) offers tons of clear-cut information and a cool, interactive Brain Tour—I recommend it!

I recently attended Sue’s workshop “Spark That Brain!”, held a RVC’s Center for Learning in Retirement. “A healthy brain may demonstrate age-related forgetfulness, and that is normal,” Sue told us. “True dementia indicates a specific disease or medical condition affecting the brain.”

Believe it or not, Sue makes this touchy and frightening subject FUN! Her handouts included games, brain teasers, and even a test at the end (I scored 100 percent, naturally). The most reassuring piece was a table that clearly outlined the difference between “Normal” and “Dementia”:

Normal age-related forgetfulness

• Sometimes misplaces keys, eyeglasses, or other items.

• Momentarily forgets an acquaintance’s name.

• Occasionally has to search for a word.

• Occasionally forgets to run an errand.

• May forget an event from the distant past.

• When driving, may momentarily forget where to turn; quickly orients self.

• Makes jokes about memory loss.

Dementia

• Forgets what an item is used for or puts it in an inappropriate place.

• May not remember knowing a person.

• Begins to lose language skills; may withdraw from social settings.

• Loses sense of time; doesn’t know what day it is.

• Has serious impairment of short-term memory; has difficulty learning and remembering new information.

• Becomes easily disoriented or lost in familiar places, sometimes for hours.

• May have little or no awareness of cognitive problems.

Well, that helped! I actually identified with all seven of the examples on the “Normal” side—a little scary, except for “forgetting events in my past,” which can be a blessing. I only wish I could forget stuff like my brother scaring me with a pretend snake in my bed…horrible! Or that time I played a cruel prank on a girl in my college dorm… she was unbearably upset, and I felt like an ass.

As far as today is concerned, however, I have to admit to a little reliance on “senior moments” for relief from my everyday stressors. Now, when I go into a room and forget why I came, I excuse myself, “Must not have been important!” When I forget what I was going to say, I hear Mom’s voice telling me, “Must’ve been a lie!”—maybe my brain is preventing me from gossiping. Or if I forget to run an errand—oh, well.

In my Second Half, I’m giving my brain the benefit of the doubt. When I forget some unpleasant household task, I count it as a blessing—I simply plop into a chair, put my feet up, and chant, “It’ll come to me…eventually!”

Attend Sue Sklar’s next workshop at RVC’s Center for Learning in Retirement: “Memory Loss, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Basics,” held May 24 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Register by calling CLR at (815) 921-3931.

Contact Sue Sklar at the Alzheimer’s Association/Greater Illinois Chapter by phone at (815) 484-1300 or in person at 1111 S. Alpine Road, Suite 307, Rockford. Ask for a catalog of her educational programs—many are FREE!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the March 9-15, 2011, issue

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