Small Pleasures
Today's Elderblogger Laugh

Is It Real or Is It Memorex

category_bug_journal2.gif At my first office Christmas party nearly 50 years ago, when the drinks had been going around liberally, the company president said to me: “You know, I almost didn’t hire you. It was a typing job and you tested at less than 20 words a minute.”

“So, then,” I asked, “why did you hire me?”

“Well, you got a hundred percent on the English test, but that’s not the reason. Lots of people easily pass that test. I did it because you’re the only job applicant who ever got a hundred percent on the math test and I figured there must a place here for someone who could do that.”

The punch line has nothing to do with today’s story, but I couldn’t leave you hanging, wondering why I’d been hired. But it’s the typing I’m here to talk about. Sort of.

Last time my typing speed was tested, when a bunch of us were feeling silly around the office one day with nothing much to do, I beat everyone with 120 wpm and no errors. We can knock off 20 words for using a computer which improves everyone’s speed, and I did the first employment test on a manual typewriter, so if there had been computers 50 years ago, I might have tested at 30 or 40 wpm.

The point of typing speed is to be able to do it without errors. And yeah, for years and years and years, I was fast and mostly error-free. You had to be so before there were computers because if the page got too messy with erasures, you had to retype the whole damned thing. (Believe it or not, some of us are old enough to remember the days before White Out existed which, I suspect, has gone the way of typewriter erasers which came before White Out.)

But I’m straying from my point, which is:

Do all old people worry about what might be early symptoms of dementia? I’ve begun to wonder. Some typing errors, along with the advent of a couple of new kinds of mistakes, nag at me a bit.

These days I don’t need speed. And ordinary typos aren’t important. But the errors I’ve been making lately are of a new class that occur with just enough frequency to be mildly alarming.

Or not. I don’t know.

In these paragraphs so far, there have been half a dozen such mistakes. Somewhere up there I typed “plant” for “place,” “god for “job” and “much” for “mostly.”

You can see there are similarities in the last two pairs - kind of - and in the first instance, I’d just been watering the plants on the deck before I sat down to write. Also, I often type a homonym for the word I intend: right for write; son for sun; red for read, etc.

These are new kinds of errors for me. My brain is doing some things it has never done before.

Another word error I make is to omit a, and, the, with, to, for; the connector words. It’s not a new error for me, but the frequency has increased by a factor of five or six or seven. I do it a lot.

Three years ago or so, I attended a meeting to sort out a yes-or-no answer I needed about coding an online test. After a good deal of discussion, we arrived at an answer, but when I got back to my desk, I couldn’t remember if it was yes or no.

I noted how odd it was to forget something in less than two minutes, something I’d needed to know for awhile to be able to move forward. I shrugged it off to having being bored blind with the project from day one, but since then there have been some similar incidents with either/or, up/down, left/right sorts of questions.

Most recently (this is either funny or serious, I don’t which) – I’ve had trouble with the hot and cold water taps. I don’t remember ever thinking once in my life about which tap is which. When I need hot, I turn on hot. I need cold, I turn on cold. What’s hard about that, except…

A few weeks ago, when I stood at the kitchen sink waiting way too long for the hot water, I finally realized I’d turned the wrong tap. How and why could that happen after a lifetime of getting it right several times every day?

It’s hard to tell if I’m still having trouble with hot and cold because it has so disturbed me that every time I’m at a sink I tell myself left is hot, right is cold. As a memory aid, I’ve reminded myself that they are in reverse alphabetical order. Maybe the first time was only a minor brain fart that I’ve made too much of and thereby turned it into an issue.

That’s the trouble with dwelling on something too much; you just further confuse yourself. But these things keep occurring, so I keep thinking about them.

A quick check around the web for early symptoms of dementia (I’d rather not know too much about this) bring up these – among others:

  • People with dementia often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that are so familiar we usually do not think about how to do them. A person with dementia may not know in what order to put clothes on or the steps for preparing a meal.
  • Occasionally everyone has trouble finding the right word but a person with dementia often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making speech or writing hard to understand.

Of the ten symptoms on the list, it appears that only two apply to my recent problems and not to the degree described. And maybe they aren’t new problems. Not counting the hot/cold issue, maybe I’ve always had similar brain farts and have only become sensitive to their possible portent because I’m older now.

Or maybe there are other reasons. I know, thanks to easy access on the web, that I take in way too much unrelated information every day and don’t remember half of it. That’s just information overload and doesn’t concern me.

Another reason might be almost six years of daily, unrelenting stress: fourteen months of unemployment followed by two-and-a-half years of a four-plus-hour commute, then another year of unemployment which continued for another year waiting for my New York apartment to sell. I could feel it taking a psychic toll while it was all happening and did my best with meditation and other techniques (is blogging a stress-reduction technique?) to mitigate the effects.

But why would stress catch up with me now when I’ve alleviated the cause? I guess you can’t know these things until the day comes when your blog readers can’t make sense of what you’ve written because your typing has turned into gibberish.


Could it be that you are relaxing at last and that you no longer feel the need to concentrate on every little detail? I ask because I find myself doing odd things too. I think it is because, after almost thirty years of having to concentrate, I now feel able to occasionally 'take my eyes off the ball' and chill out. If I do things on auto pilot in that mode I do find myself making silly errors. The real problem would be not recognising that I had done so.

Is it any comfort to know that you are in "good" company? It does for me. Just knowing that I could have written your journal entry, makes my forgetting "stuff" easier to handle.An added note that may be of interest: my 91 year old mom (totally independent)has the same complaints. Perhaps our minds are just cutting us some slack since having all this information isn't necessary anymore....hmmmmm. Dee

I'm with you Ronni. It worries me, some of the things I do now. What really concerns me is when I do something totally out of character for me while driving my car. Twice now I've gotten over into the left turn lane one whole block before I got to the street I actually intended to turn left on. Fortunately, it was early in the morning and there was not much traffic and no police around so I just moved back over to the right and kept going. The first time I did it, my wife asked me why I was doing it. I had no answer.

I'm getting so bad now, my wife threatened to buy me this shirt that had "Now, why did I come into this room?" printed on it. We all laughed at the time but's not that funny.

I've never been a fast typist and I made enough mistakes while typing that slowly but YES! I too notice changes in that skill. I substitute "with" for "will" all the time. I can't figure what that's all about.

Here's what I know for talent for being creative has diminished almost to the point of being non-existent. I really miss it. I no longer carry around a pencil and pad, knowing that at some point during my day, some inspiration would come and I simply must stop and write what was in my mind and heart. Poems flowed from me like perspiration on a hot, humid day.

It's a tragic loss for me. I actually go through a grieving process because of it. It hurts down deep.

I wrote about something similar a while back; I called it "Adult-onset dyslexia". I type nearly the same errors you mentioned and God for dog,as well as other dyselxic-type things. I have not had the water problem, but sometimes I don't brush my teeth until after I have applied a gel to my face for rosacea, and then it mostly gets washed off with the teeth-brushing. How dumb is that? Like Dee, it is nice to know we are in good company!

A couple of years ago, I was going through a very forgetful, distracted phase. I was so worried, I sat down with my husband to "have the talk." Then I talked it all over with my friend who is a neurologist. He asked me if I could draw a clock with the time 8:20. Apparently, that is a very complex brain puzzle and a good indicator of dementia. He also told me that people who are really falling into dementia are not worried about it. They don't know it's happening. That said, I just answered a questionnaire that said you have three years of "forgetfulness" before you start to show those "symptoms" you were reading about. I don't know if this is helpful information or not. I do believe that worrying about it will make it worse. I also believe that stress manifests strongest when it has the space to. Why do people get sick the first week of their vacation? Same thing. They have time.

Stress has a lot to do with it. Even though you are now settled in and relaxed it may take months before you have really settled down. I had a lot of stressful stuff when I was in my fifties and early sixties--job changes, business start-up, business failure, divorce. Many times I thought I was losing it. It took me several years of relative peace before I again felt confident of my own abilities. I'm not denying there are brain changes, and some of them bother me. But it will probably get much better before it gets worse. Hang in there.

Ronni, you're also still learning to live in a new place. That takes more attention than you are aware of, so there may be a kind of unconscious distraction. The old familiar environment didn't need your attention; it could be assumed. I can see getting confused about the water taps as a subset of that. In some new places, they actually are reversed from what you're used to.

Stress is definitely a factor. For a while there, I would go over to Teaneck, NJ where I rent a garage, and I'd pick up a couple of gallons of cheap milk on my way to either pick the car up or put the car away. More than once, I actually put the milk down while opening the garage and getting the car out and then drove away without it. The one that took the cake was when I put a gallon of milk down at my feet while waiting for the bus and, when the bus came, ran away to catch the bus and left the milk standing there. Out of sight, out of mind. I should have put it where I'd trip over it.

I can still completely forget about a load of laundry that's at the laundromat. I've had the yes-or-no experience, too.

I started taking one of those dubious memory supplements containing phosphatidylserine, called "Vital Memory." It, or something, seemed to help some. Or maybe I've just gotten used to how sick my husband is, so it doesn't stress me out as much. I do know you don't recover from stress overnight, and that it is indeed when you can relax and let your vigilance down that you may first realize how badly it affected you.

Don't forget you've just moved from NYC to Maine, a place which actually has a different culture. All your old support systems are back in the city and your pals are further away. On top of that, you've just retired. Give yourself a break! Those are reallly big life changes. Even mere mortals are allowed a brain blip after that.

Ah, yes - the aftermath of stress.

Take a deep breath and 'keep on keeping on'. A delayed reaction to long-term stress is not uncommon. This may be better than having your immune system collapse and put you into the ICU! Besides, you are aware of it, which means that you ARE IN CONTROL.

Cheers and thankyou for your wonderful pictures of your new home.

I wrote a while back about making a major move, too. We came to NM (was I the one who keyed it in MN so that people in charge of my retirement thought we were going to Minnesota?). Anyway, you're in good company. My big blunder came after having retired from 35 years on the job (40 years of supporting myself, etc.). I started putting my bra on inside out. Sometimes I wouldn't notice it until I tried to take it off--much harder to do. Sometimes, I've looked it over and THEN tried to put it on inside out. I never thought I'd be telling this to the public. On the other hand, I've never worn it outside my clothes either. So things are still pretty good.

The typing is explained, by me when I do it, because I am typing fast also and my thoughts are way ahead of my fingers. I count on my fingers to stay with the program but they don't always and I do the same thing-- type whole words that my fingers must have thought looked nice but had nothing to do with the context (could our fingers have a little fun with us for taking them for granted?). I lay it to brain ahead of body syndrome.

On the hot and cold water, put a tiny drop of red nail polish on the hot one. You moved recently and maybe that one simply is because they aren't the same as where they were for years.

And for you, I think I'd save worrying about dementia for another day when you have less on your mind as you seem sharp as a tack and able to take in more information than a lot of much younger people, form it and reproduce it to share with others. (A good example is today's post as a lot of us probably do the exact same thing and worry about it or wonder what the heck caused that; so your discussing it reassures us that it's either natural consequence of age or too much on our minds-- which I don't plan changing either one anytime soon. Maybe our kids do it also. I should ask.)

I'm reminded of the time I was asked to teach someone to tie a necktie. I'd been doing it unconsciously for who knows how long; but, as I tried to catalog the steps in the process, I kept screwing it up.
I think you're no longer operating in "survival mode" and your mind is free to wander off-task now and again.

Rain has a good answer and one I tell myself when I type "god" for "dog". Like you, I have found for the past few months, my dyslexic typing and odd choice of words has gotten noticeable. I also suddenly question the spelling of words I have written without a thought for many years.

It has been disconcerting to me as well.

When you go to the refrigerator and forget what you wanted to take out - not to worry--but when you go to the refrigerator and don't know what it is for -- that's time to worry!

Why is it we call young people "scatterbrained" and old people "senile"? I say our brains/computers have memory overload....we know a lot more and it takes longer to scroll through the index.

I was going to leave a comment, but I forgot what you were talking about. :)

Yes, I think this must be a normal and rather common developmental stage, especially for those who have done stressful work, especially in cities. Although I do like the "Adult-onset Dyslexia" handle.
Brain fatigue is what I call it. At certain times of the day or after strenuous events (usually social) my writing, speaking, thinking and even getting from one room to another, all are on the fritz. I see it and chuckle. And then get some rest. Frequent brief meditation stops, a nap, going with the invitation into "nothingness" for a little while all give the dear old brain a chance to come back to itself.
As we slow down, our gaits and reaction times show this, so too, do we slow down thinking and remembering. Although everything we remember about ourselves is not as sharp as it once was, we don't need it to be sharp for what we are doing at this stage. Elders have unique things to do but being 30 year-olds is not one of them.
Best to love and cherish ourselves for how we are right now. Looking at our other stages...did we criticize ourselves when we had potty accidents? Repeated fall down while trying to learn to skate or bike? Or fail a 4th grade spelling test?
Just normal human development, that's all. Gotta love it!

For me, at least, there is a huge difference between the typing that I did long ago and the input that I make to the computer. Typing was generally transcription. The source of the information was a radio (as in copying morse code) or a sheet of paper (as in hand-written copy). Now, we input while we are thinking what we wish to say. I think this gives us a longer neural path to follow. We become more unconscious of our "typing"--to the detriment of our "spelling"--because we are concentrating on our thoughts. Too, the keyboards that we use with computers are not laid out the same as our typewriters were--there is less pitch between the rows. Whatever. I agree with your other readers that you are showing no "visible" signs of senility. (And, yes, I am as scatter-brained as I was at 20!)

Just last Tuesday I went to tie my shoes and discovered I was still barefoot, and then put the can cover on the catfood can and put it in the fridge and then noticed that there was no food in the cat dish and I hadn't opened the cat food yet.

For me, I'm pretty sure it was a combination of a very painful back ache (when my back aches, I'm often either clumsy or forgettful or both) and being six steps ahead of my body in my mind, making sure I didn't forget to bring the dragon puppet to work.

Not only do I remember typing before white-out (and I'm ONLY 56) but I remember those awful blue carbon copies we used in order to have a copy of what we typed.

As someone with dyscalculia (, I've learned to expect not to remember much and to compensate and prepare myself by writing most everything down.

The thing that I've noticed in the last 5-10 years is that I can barely write. My handwriting has devolved to the point of unreadable scrawl...even when I try to write legibly.

I would guess that what your experiencing is a normal part of aging. When I do feel anxious about my own increasing mental lapses, I remember something I read once... that people with Alzheimer’s don't forget where they put their glasses, they forget they even wear glasses.

Everyone is getting older so don't sweat it! It isn't about age anyway but it is about the quality of one's life.

I have felt the effects of stress more than ever the past two years of my life. Oh yes, I'm a believer of what stress can do to you your mind, to your your physical being, and to your emotional being. I also agree with Charis to a very great extent. Finally coming through a lot of stressful situations where you can't let down...where you have to keep going and stay on top of things whether you want to or where you have settled a lot of it and have some time to crash and let your mind and body give in a little, and I think this is where you find yourself making these mistakes. Our bodies regroup in strange ways...young and old. It just might take us a little longer; or we very well might misinterpret it for something else much more distressful and frightening. The wonderful thing about you Ronni, is that you always check things out and ask questions; so if there IS anything on your'll stay on top of it. Hugs, Joy


You have been running on adrenaline for a long time now as you plowed through some difficult times. Now that you are in a safe, calm, peaceful place in you life and the stress is leveling off it is only natural that you may not be completely up to par yet. Like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, it feels so good when you stop, the bruises you received during all that stress took a lot out of you and your system has not completely adjusted to the new level of normalcy.

If you were NOT experiencing some lapses now and then I would be concerned. In my opinion your system is just telling you to take a deep breath and wander out and discover some new friends and activities and get on with and enjoy your new life.

You are 100% A OK.. I guarantee it.

Yeah, I remember all that typing, multi-carbons; had that top speed, too. Who knows now. I do know with the typewriter, now the computer, my mind often thinks faster than my fingers type. So many of those words, a/the, etc. you mention, Ronni, I often leave out during composing to get on with the meaningful content.

I also know I've gotten lazy with the spell check, coupled with my "casual" concentration for all but business communiques. I'm aware the result can be increased errors in the casual writing (includes blog comments,) even grammar errors I never use to make i.e. their/there, others, though I know the difference. Sometimes I simply don't proofread, am not careful enough, or get in a hurry.

The comments others wrote above are right on target explaining what are contributors to memory and behavioral functional changes we may experience, based on my professional knowledge of cognitive functioning. Most apropos for you, Ronni, I believe, is to consider the stress level under which you lived for at least those six years. Do not underestimate the changes your body experienced over a period of time and now as you re-adjust.

For what it's worth, since my husband's death less than three months ago, I have found myself experiencing some of the other behaviors you describe to a now gradual lessening degree. There is little doubt in my mind this is due to a stress, decompression, or whatever, connection that is temporary. I think you will find a similar connection, though the causes are different, for yourself. Be patient with yourself.

What I'm reading in your post, Ronni, are classic complaints from people as we age. We've carried some of those stereotypical perceptions of aged people's behavior most of our lives, some of which, let's face it, are true for some people. Then, we reach an age where we begin to pay more attention to these behaviors to which previously we never gave more than a second thought. Add in, for some, a slight slowing due to normal aging. Mix-up all the above and you have the makings for undue concerns which are expressed by ever-so-many aging people all the time.

Being aware of behavioral changes is important, but nothing I read suggests you need anything more than reassurance your functions are within an acceptable, dare I say "normal," range, though this cannot be considered a formal professional judgement.

When anyone has persistent concerns, medical consult and/or formal functional assessment is highly recommended, rather than the individual having continued unresolved questions.

Hi Ronnni,
I just installed a program on my computer to automatically correct my typing mistakes.

I've taught it to fix my most common typos: hte, nad, teh, thakns and workign.

I too sometimes look down at my typing and see words that aren't supposed to be there.

When I was out at Blogher with my mom, we went out into the parking lot to get the car and couldn't find it. I forgot where I put it and didn't have my auxillary memory, Carol, with me. It made me realize how much I rely on Carol to remind me of things as we go through our daily life. Without her around I have to make a concious decision to remember where I parked my car. Some people take cellphone photos of where they parked to help them remember.

One other thing we say is that if you are wondering if you have demetia, it's better than having it and not realizing it. So thinking about these things is a good sign. They day you don't realize what's happening will be a bad one.

Oh boy it's really nice to read these Blogs on forgetfulness. I was beginning to think I had early Alzheimers. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone. I find it most frustrating to be in the middle of an animated conversation and suddenly have to stop because a simple word escapes me. It's like my brain has an on/off switch and somebody pushed the off button. A doctor once told a patient that it's normal to forget where you put your car keys, but if you forget you have a car your in trouble. So far I haven't forgotten the important things so I guess that's the best I can hope for. I try to avoid stressful situations as they seem to affect my memory lapses. One thing I will add is that my typing skills have improved since getting the computer.

My immediate response to this is to tell you "don't worry about it!" but I think that response is mostly motivated by the fact that I like you, and want you to feel better. But it's not going to make you feel better to simply deny your concerns.

The one thing that I would say is that sleep deprivation and other stressors can also produce the symptoms listed above.

My first child just never slept when he was a baby. I probably spent a solid year not getting a full night's sleep. (Yes, my husband helped, but for a long time I was nursing him, so there were some things he couldn't help with).

I noticed that I started having real difficulty recalling words and even doing simple mental math. It was really frightening! I wondered if it was permanent, too. I was 30 at the time, so I didn't think it was dementia, but I didn't know what it was. Eventually, I read a book called The Memory Bible, by a gerontologist named Gary Smalls. The first part of the book is a simple self-test that he says is designed to separate "the worried well" from people who really should see their doctor. Many, many people, he says, are part of "the worried well" because they have transient memory problems, many of which are caused by stress or sleep deprivation.

The good news is that memory impairment due to sleep deprivation is pretty easily reversible by spending a week making an effort to really get enough sleep on a daily basis. Memory impairment due to stress is a little more problematic. Our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol that has a remarkable impact on memory. Cortisol suppresses our ability to form new memories and may damage some cells' ability to produce neurotransmitters important to short and long-term memory. That's something it takes a little longer to bounce back from, but it can be done.

Bad things like illness and job loss are obviously stressful but good stuff like your recent move are also very stressful. People really underestimate the impact of stress and sleep deprivation on cognitive function, and we also underestimate how long it will take us to recover what we consider to be peak function. If you're worried, I recommend Dr. Small's book, which after the test has lots of information on what we can do to keep our brain fit at every age. And maybe a nap. Ollie can maybe be your nap-consultant.

Eat more curry - the turmeric clears out the brain plaque.

No, seriously. Alzheimer's rates in India are extremely low.

I identify with everything you mentioned in this post. I've always had that problem with the hot/cold water, though. I also have to say "righty-tighty/lefty-loosey" to open jars and use a screw driver. So it's not all age, but I'm going to cook Indian dishes every week! Thanks for that info, Donna.

Hooray; a reason to eat more curry!

All these commentors make excellent do you, of course. I agree, mostly, with Bonnie and recommend taking it, and ourselves, lightly. Couldn't it just be charming eccentricities/marvelous malapropisms...? :)

Ronni, I identify with your concern about increasing "brain farts" you, I used to be a wiz-bang typist, very fast and error free. No longer. I still may be fast, but not error free and must slow down the speed, and proof-read carefully because I make errors which I rarely made in my younger days. I think it is because as we age, we lose some of our ability to concentrate and focus, and multi-task. Also, I notice that I say one thing when I mean exactly the opposite... especially when giving directions to someone driving, I say "turn right" when I meant to say "turn left"... haven't messed up the hot/cold tap yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's next. My short-term memory is just not sharp anymore...and everyone I know that is my age or order have the same complaints... so I'm not overly concerned, and am trying to accept these brain changes as a natural part of aging, and not dementia, hopefully.

Ronni, if you are senile, I am totally demented ;)
But I do understand your worrying as I too am a worrier


Have you had your thyroid levels checked recently? Low thyroid can affect brain efficiency. My father-in-law recently had problems with recalling certain words (he's in his seventies) and I think that's where the problem lay.

Wow. I could have written this entry. Somehow there is comfort in knowing how many of us are having the same problem.

I have been having a bit of a long hard think on this subject, as one does, and decided that I agree with Charis. I am a little bit worried about that, but probably only because I have been brain-washed.

The occasional lapses I am having into forgetfulness, confusion and mis-placement of things is to do with my having relaxed my high expectations of myself. When I was younger I went to great pains to get things right, always be on-the-ball.

Most of the women involved in this discussion I am sure will have come through the era of ‘wonderwomen’; the working mothers who battled for fair pay and treatment from co-workers and bosses, and generally needing to prove their ability to run a house and family at the same time. It was hard work, at whatever age you did it.

And a lot of us have maintained a career drive, just take a look at the profiles of the posters around you to see the different achievements on display. And now it is time to relax, if we can - to let go and leave our minds wander (no pun intended). I read a lot, and I blog quite a lot, and as I wander around the house and yard my head is more often out in the clouds, reflecting on something I’ve read, or want to write, little wonder then that I might find myself standing at a laundry chute holding the cat...

And my concern? Well, I haven’t quite come to terms with it, this relaxing; the experts tell me I must keep busy, do brain exercises, but in truth I’d rather wander around the garden and watch the birds.

Here's a strange twist - I haven't ever had any trouble remembering which is the hot and which is the cold water, when I turn them on. But until I got up and checked just now, I would have sworn that in our house all the hots are on the right and colds on the left! And even stranger, when I asked my husband just now, he at first thought the same, though while I was running the hot water to check, he changed his mind about it.

As for typing, I go very fast and make every kind of mistake mentioned here, but then, I always have - I don't think it has gotten much worse, if at all. What has gotten worse is spotting those mistakes onscreen when I check what I've written. But I blame that on the proven difficulty of "seeing" on computer monitors.

My mom (78) has some kind of severe dementia, and one of the earliest symptoms, starting about 15 years ago, was difficulty with spelling. But it wasn't the kinds of mistakes everyone's talking about here. She literally couldn't spell certain words at all, not even close enough to look them up in a dictionary. Words that once would have been no-brainers - she had always been a good speller. And she was very aware of the problem. Now she can barely write her own name, and she also has great difficult speaking. She has a thought she wants to communicate, but the words get tangled or stuck, and then she forgets what she was trying to say.

Does anyone have touble reading? I don't recognize some words right away, and I feel as if my Brain is not aple to connect correctly. Even little easy words, are sometimes hard to comprehend right away and I have to stare at the word for a while to get what I am actually reading.
Does this sound familiar?

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