The Seven Most Toxic Myths About Senior Moments

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Senior moments are not funny

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We live in a time where myths take the place of facts. We read that senior moments are momentary, related to age, undifferentiated, humorous, not a part of our identity, and can be prevented by motivation to change. Guess what? None of it is true.

Myth 1. Senior Moments Are Momentary Brain Glitches Confined to Seniors

The phrase senior moment implies that the event is confined to one age group and is short. However, senior moments are not limited to people over 60, although they occur more often in seniors. The word moment implies that these events are blips that pop up without connections to what proceeds and vanish when they end. But there are always precursors. For example, how well did you sleep the night before a missed appointment? Was there something that occupied your mind when you called your grandson by the granddaughter’s name?

Fact: There is no age starting line for senior moments, and there are always precursors to the event.

Myth 2. All Senior Moments Can Be Grouped Together

Senior moments are portrayed as indistinguishable from each other. After all, forgetting where you put your glasses for the umpteenth time is as embarrassing as conflating memories into something that never happened. Yes, forgetting objects and conflating memories are examples of senior moments, but lumping them together hides significant differences that will affect their prevention. It would be like trying to understand nutrition by labeling sugar, oranges, tomatoes, celery, and a fatty piece of steak just as “food.” Yes, all are foods, but some will bolster your energy while others may make you a candidate for a quadruple bypass.

Fact: There are nine types of senior moments, each resulting from a specific type of information processing error.

Myth 3. All Senior Moments Involve Memory Problems

Memory loss plays a significant role in creating many types of senior moments, but not all. It is not helpful to say, “She has memory issues,” when someone conflates two events into one that never existed. It is more informative to determine if a memory issue caused the senior moment, and if it did, what type of memory problem was the culprit. For example, not remembering why I am in the kitchen after leaving my office (sequential memory) is different from not realizing I already told a story (short-term memory) 15 minutes ago.

Fact: One of four types of memory problems may lead to a senior moment, but some moments occur even if memory is intact.

Myth 4. Senior Moments are an Inevitable Part of Aging

We are all susceptible to the aging process. Muscles will shrink whether you are a weightlifter or someone whose idea of bodybuilding is taking out the garbage once a week. While some seniors struggle with their senior moments as if trapped in a locked room, others have learned strategies to compensate for the changes. Strategies enable seniors to function as they did when much younger.

Fact: Senior moments are not an inevitable part of aging and can be prevented by using strategies.

Myth 5. Senior Moments Are Humorous and Should Not Be Taken Seriously

Losing one’s glasses two or three times a day might be great fodder for a late-night comedian’s opening monologue. But there is no humor when your senior moment makes others question your cognitive ability, as it did when I could not remember my zip code when it was the precursor for using a credit card at a gas station, despite having lived at the same address for 40 years.

Fact: Although some senior moments are funny, if we go beyond the humor, most can offer insights into how we process information.

Myth 6. Senior Moments Are Isolated Events That Do Not Define Who You Are

Our identity is an amalgam of behaviors, beliefs, history, and expectations. Psychologists like Erik Erikson viewed it as a gestalt, the wholeness of who you are. The sociologist Henri Talfel believed that identity also includes how a person relates to others, which incorporates senior moments. It would be great if we could separate those parts of us that we do not like from those we cherish; our embarrassing senior moments from our brilliant ideas. Sadly, it is a package deal.

Fact: Senior moments are inherently a part of our identity.

Myth 7. You Only Need Motivation to Prevent Senior Moments

Motivation is highly over-rated as a method for preventing senior moments. Several years ago, I enrolled in an expensive cycle training program promising I would become fit in 60 days, decrease my cycle times by 30 percent, and live longer. I think implicit was that my sex life would improve, and I would grow more hair. All I needed was motivation. I looked around and saw 10 other cyclists less than half my age (65 at that time) quickly pedaling without even sweating. I had visions of the instructor calling my wife after the session with the news I died on the bike, highly motivated and asking if she would like to purchase it as a remembrance as if it was a memorial candle.

Fact: Motivation is ephemeral and rarely sufficient to prevent senior moments.

The Takeaway

Leading a life based on myths is conducive to cognitive dissonance—a discrepancy between beliefs and facts. Dispelling myths is the first step in preventing senior moments.

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