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Tales of Old Age Memory

category_bug_journal2.gif On Monday at The Elder Storytelling Place, our friend William Weatherstone entertained us with a 17-year-old column from newspaper editor, Colin McKim, about “losing it” as we get older. A sample line or two:

”These days I find I can’t hold a phone number in my mind long enough to get it punched in. Somewhere between my eyes and my index finger I lose it, or part of it, which amounts to the same thing.

“And then there’s the mystery novel on the bedside table. Now that I am losing it, I understand why they call them mysteries.”

Which is pretty close to what a 90-something woman said that I read somewhere: she now owns only one book, an Agatha Christie mystery, because she never remembers whodunit so she can read it again and again.

I know what that woman and Colin mean; it works that way for me with any given Law & Order episode.

The comments on William's story were fun. This from Herm:

”For the past three weeks I've been looking for my dress shoes and wedding band. My shoes aren't lost nor is my wedding band. They are where ever I put them. I just don't know where that is.

“On the other side of this coin, it drives me crazy when I get a certain something stuck in my head and can't get it out.”

Joanne Zimmermann noted that she couldn't “remember what else I was going to say.” And brbrsln2 suggested this:

”Maybe we should have a contest about the scariest or funniest personal description of 'losing it.'”

Well, not a contest, but let's fool around today telling each other our best personal forgetfulness stories.

According to the people who study such stuff, it is our short-term memory (where in the world could Herm's dress shoes be?) that bedevils us the most. Alternately, it is not uncommon in old age for our brains to dredge up long forgotten scenes from childhood.

But let's leave the science out of it today. This isn't about the tragedy of Alzheimer's or the fear of it; it's just normal old-age memory lapses that annoy and irritate but often are absurd and silly too.

My short-term memory has become so poor that I keep paper and pen nearby in most rooms of the house and my handbag to jot things down so they won't disappear into a black hole.

And it's amazing just how short short-term memory can get. It has happened more than once that somewhere between thinking, I must write that down, and putting pen to paper, I've forgotten what it was I wanted to remember.

But my favorite happened nearly 30 years ago when I was in my early 40s and couldn't find my house keys. An hour of searching turned up not a hint. I tried all the usual places and the tricks the experts suggest like retracing your steps from when you know you last used the keys.

Nothing worked. So I was stuck at home when I should have been at work because living in a house where my front door faced directly on the street in New York City, I couldn't leave without locking the door.

With a sigh, I went to the fridge for a drink and lo! There were the keys on a shelf next to some leftover Chinese takeout looking as out of place as a pig in the parlor. And it's not like I'd arrived home the evening before with food that needed storing. Who knows what kind of brain glitch was at work.

It wasn't long afterward that I obtained a nice-looking piece of wall furniture to place next to the door where I could leave mail and other things I wanted to be sure to take with me and, most important, hang the keys as my first act upon entering the house.

Now it's your turn – what are you adventures in “losing it.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Purpose in Life


I think our short-term memory gets "worse" because at our age we have such a rich stream of interesting thoughts running through our head. If we had fewer such fascinating thoughts, like those unfortunate younger people, we could "hold" a thought longer in the stream.

Also, on forgetting where the keys are. This is why we should train ourselves to have certain rigid habits concerning boring rote activities. ALWAYS put your keys in a certain place. ALWAYS put your cell phone ditto, your purse, etc., etc. See my comment above about more interesting thoughts distracting us.

I ruined a perfectly good carton of ice-cream by putting it into the microwave instead of the freezer. Have no idea why I did that...

It seems that I can remember where I am going or what I was going to do when I got there--but not both at the same time. (And this is around the house.)

Here's my latest heart stopping freakout story:

We're snow birding in Florida right now. Every morning we drive to a beach or park for a long walk.

I always wear a bum bag around my waist or over my shoulder. Feels secure and safe.

Couple days ago, we arrived at the park... a few cars already there.

It's a little chilly in the morning, so I put on a sweatshirt once we got out of the car.

Then we stared walking.

About twenty minutes into the walk, we stopped to gaze at a gator sunning itself across a wide lagoon.

I went to get my camera from my bum bag..

"OH NO."


My DH always remains calm in these freakout moments.

"Well, it can't be lost. Let's go back to the car."

"I know I left it on the trunk of the car when I put on the sweater," I yelled.

"I have to go back to the car. It's on the trunk."

"Someone probably picked it up by now."

Running as fast as my 68 year old legs could go, I jogged. Puffing hard, heart on fire, panic stricken.

Every piece of ID in my wallet, my camera, all in the bum bag.

Got to our car. Now a service van was parked beside it.

No bag on trunk.

I knocked on the van wall.

The driver saw my panic and opened the window a crack.

"Did you see a purse on this car beside yours?"

I was about to have a seizure.

"No, lady, I did not see anything on your car."

"Oh my God. My purse is gone."

But wait.

Something told me to look inside the car.

My bag was there, right where I left it when I put on the sweater.

And I did not recall leaving it there.

That's the scary part.

Went back to the van man.

"I found my purse."

"We're from Canada. Losing my bag would have been a big problem."

The man looked as relieved as I was.

Meanwhile, my DH calmly strolled up, hugged me, and for the millionth time we vowed to:

Always do a little security check before leaving house, car, etc.

"Purses ahoy?"

"Roger that."

Well, we can't find a new sport coat last worn 3 years ago by my husband to a wedding in NYC. Also misplaced several sympathy cards that I wanted to send to friends who've recently lost pets. And then there's a funny story about misplacing something recently around here, but I'll be darned if I can remember it. :) Maybe later? Dee

I consider it all part of the adventure of old age which why I own multiples of essentials like hair brushes, scissors, keys and other necessities stashed in various places around my apartment.

That said. since my last cataract surgery, I don't need to wear glasses anymore except for reading (and I have the font on my computer set large enough that I don't need them here) and sometimes I lose track of my best readers. I'm finally starting to learn to reach on top of my head where I often stash them. I laugh at myself a lot these days.

When our board comes to town for meetings I'm always running around like a crazy woman. I'm responsible for their hotel rooms, all the catering (including dealing with folks with severe onion and dairy allergies, soy allergies, and vegetarians), on top of taking the minutes of the meeting.

Board members are always stopping me asking if I could send them a document or form after the meeting ends. I always tell them to please send me an email about it since as soon as I walk out the door I will forget what they asked.

Since I'm used to the touch, I take the minutes of the meeting using my personal pink netbook. That means I have to take it home and bring it back in the morning. Just yesterday morning I was running around getting ready to leave for work and kept eyeing my netbook (in a pink tote), next to the door and kept saying over and over to myself "don't forget the laptop". I drove into my parking garage at work realizing I had forgotten it!

Not sure if that is age related or a combination of just too many things going on at once.

I'm fortunate now that I live with my daughter and family and have a 9 year old "eagle-eyed" grandson who is exceptional at finding everything I misplace. But a decade ago I left my purse in a grocery shopping cart after I returned the cart to the outdoor storage slip. After I got home and unpacked my groceries, I realized that I didn't have my purse. I drove back to the store parking lot in hopes that my purse was still in the cart, but no luck. Later that day I got a phone call from an elder couple who went through the trouble of taking my purse home with them and tracking me down via the info in my wallet so that they could return it to me. I drove to their little house on the other side of town to retrieve my purse. I wanted to give them a reward, but they wouldn't take it. On the way home, I cried from sheer relief, and also with deep appreciation for the honesty of these strangers.

If you lose something small around the house, check the wastebaskets, and your pockets.

"Set the timer," Has become my mantra these days. I lost my short term memory via a stroke in 1989, and ever since life has been interesting. Lately, I've taken over doing the laundry in our three story tall condo. I put the laundry in the dryer, start another load, and say over and over again as I climb up to the top story, "Set the timer, set the timer...." Despite that mantra, I have been known to forget to set it and find the stuff in the dryer a half wrinkled mess when I get back down there. I'm learning to laugh at myself.

Many months back, I couldn't find the remote control in my master bedroom. Looked everywhere it could be scouring the places I'd left it in the past. No luck.

I gave up. Went to Radio Shack to buy a universal remote. After several friends and I attempted to set the darn thing, I gave up again. This time going back several decades to manually turning TV on and off and adjusting sound and channels. What a pain. I started watching less TV in my bedroom...a gift, I suppose.

Then, about a month ago, I was looking in my closet for a light jacket. As I moved the hangars, I spotted the missing remote peaking from the pocket of the very jacket I was looking for. Eureka...there it was.

I have absolutely no reasonable idea about how the remote ended up in the pocket of that jacket. No logical reason for its being there has surfaced. However, I don't care. I'm quite pleased I can surf the channels whenever I choose from the comfort of my warm, cozy bed.

Forever chanting pocket or purse for my phone, keys, and asthma nebulizer. Unfortunately I don't always recall which pockets, and I lose the purse in the house. Been trying out new spots for the purse, not going well. And the other day I had to cancel a credit card that I thought I'd lost. It turned up in the washer, out of a pocket I'd put it in.

The upside is some or another of my grandgirls are frequent visitors and like Elaine's grandson are great at finding stuff, any stuff, anywhere in the house.

For years I've left Point A and gone to Point B in order to get/do something and, upon arrival at Point B, been unable to remember why I went there; so returned to Point A and sat down, thus triggering recall of why I'd gone to Point B and necessitating a return trip. My best friend has always maintained it's 'cause our "brains are in our butts!" Laughter at our foibles sure beats tears! :)

We are not alone. A couple of years ago, I returned from a holiday shopping foray to discover my VISA card was missing. I desperately hurried back to places I'd visited that day. At a department store, a clerk found my card stored in their safe. Red-faced, I made humble comments about how stupid I was to leave the card. The clerk said it wasn't unusual at all--there were 30 other cards in the safe with mine waiting for some slack time when store employees could track down the owners.

I've got you all beat. I pushed my cart of groceries out of the store toward my car. I saw a neighbor and spoke to her for a minute. When I got home, I realized I had left the full cart of groceries sitting in the parking lot!

When I was in my early 30s I was a sous chef at a ski lodge. Often I opened the walk-in door to find someone standing still in the middle of the cooler with no idea why he or she was there. And they were 20-somethings.

The other night I went to a spinning class at my gym. When I got there, the notice board said the class had been canceled. Oh well, I thought, I can still work out. But I'd forgotten to put my workout clothes in my bag. All I had were a sports bra and my shoes & socks.

If I ever get out the door to my car to go to work without having to go back inside, or drive around the block and go back to get something forgotten, it's a miracle.

Years ago, my stepmother lost a whole load of laundry. She knew she'd finished dampening it and was about to iron it (this must have been before steam irons) when somehow it disappeared. A week later, she went down to the basement to get something from the deep freeze--and there was the missing laundry. She had no idea how it got there, but she learned something. After that, if she'd dampened her laundry and then something interrupted her, she just tucked it in the freezer, knowing she could pull it out, still damp and ready to iron, whenever she needed it.

I was going to write something here but forgot what it was.

However, I did once watch my mother pour a pot of just made coffee down the sink.

This hasn't gotten to be too much of a problem yet, but the other day I did something I've never done before. I was in a hurry to get somewhere and probably rushing myself way too much and not remembering to breathe, relax, et cetera. I stopped to get gas, as my gauge was very low and there is not a convenient station near my house. I usually use my card at the pump, but went inside this time to get a drink, gave the clerk my card with a request for $20 on the pump I was at. By the time I got back to the car and put my drink in the holder, I simply got in the car and drove off. No gas. I realized this when I looked a the gage about five miles down the road, and thought "huh"? Found the closest turn lane and doubled back, feeling like an idiot. I went back inside, explained my situation to the same clerk and showed her my receipt. She was very helpful, saying that this happens all the time, and that if the gas is not pumped within a certain number of minutes, the charge is backed off the card. I went back out, pumped the gas with the card again, and checked online when I got home. Sure enough, there was only one charge. I was very pleased that the software company who developed the gas pumping software factored in the possibility that someone would pay for, but not pump the gas. I had been afraid that the next person to use the pump would have gotten the benefit of what I paid for, but didn't get and I would have to pay for theirs and mine. The universe was kind to me that day, compensating for my deficiencies. And I agree with Linda's first comment, that we become too distracted by all the interesting things that have accumulated in our minds. Even years ago, when we were in our early forties, a friend of mine used to call it suffering from CBS - Cluttered Brain Syndrome. I still think that to myself when these moments occur.

A few months ago, I broke one of my own rules, which is when a pan is on the stove, stay by the stove!

On this occasion, I had placed a pan of oatmeal on a burner, turned it on high, then promptly went to another room and got involved with something on my computer.

A certain odor caught my attention. I raced to the kitchen in time to see smoke rising from the pan.

Big lesson learned ... certain rules are not made to be broken. Stay by the stove!

By the way, initially I thought that pan was a goner, but after quite a bit of effort, I was able to get it clean. The burn odor remained in the stove area for a while, as a smelly reminder.

Let's see, two incidents that stand out are, putting a pan of soup in the cuboard. (thats pan, not can) and also a bag of salad in the junk drawer. Don't ask!

After we returned from the cruise, my husband hid his camera so that I wouldn't be able to download HIS pics. You guessed it. He can't remember where he hid it.

Three things:

* Last November I saw a very interesting article covered in the online Science News, titled Walking Through Doorways Causes Forgetting, New Research Shows about a study which was recently published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. You can read the article at

* I have finally wound up with three sets of keys from past flurries of forgetfulness. And I also keep Hide-a-keys for my car and my house locks, so I am never locked out.

* Some time back in the 80's or 90's I attended a seminar of the Dana Brain Initiative in La Jolla, emceed by NPR's Ira Flatow for Science Friday. The topic was the brain and how it works and changes throughout our lifetime from pre-birth to old age.
The expert gerontologist stated the memory lapses occur pretty much all our lives (remember “I lost my train of thought?”) and that this simply occurs more often as we age. I took some comfort in that.

I don't know if it's is age or memory-related, but being easily distracted is a problem, one that has vexed me on more than one occasion, the latest just a few weeks ago:

Recently I wanted to prepare a batch of my favorite chili recipe, and while assembling the necessary utensils and ingredients on the kitchen counter, I found I had everything but one item ... onion. No problem, I live across the street from a supermarket, so slipped on my jacket and ran over there. I usually shop from a list, but this was just one small item, so why bother, right? Right. But when I entered the produce department I immediately noted they were having a sale on asparagus, which I love. But my favorite way of preparing it calls for blue cheese crumbles, so that required a trip to the dairy section, where I recalled I was getting low on milk, so this would be a good time to pick up a half-gallon. Dairy is right next to the baked goods section, where they were having Italian bread (another favorite) at a discount, so a good time to buy. And so on, until I reached the checkout with a full sack of groceries. When I arrived home I headed straight to the kitchen to put away my purchases, only to be greeted by all the chili fixings on the counter ... except one.

Does anyone know of a questionnaire to evaluate memory loss? An evaluation to see if you are within normal limits for your age or if you should be concerned. These anecdotes are reassuring but I think many elders find these incidents upsetting.

to Mia:
try this site

Love all the comments!
I'm trying to be more "routiney" and doing "a place for everything and everything in its place." It's helpful when I can remember just what "place" I picked.

There are so many tales, I hardly know where to start. The affliction is not entirely new as my young 4-5 year old son used to find my glasses for me almost 50 years ago. But it has become worse - much worse.

The most recent incident was the case of the lost catalog. I'm in the [thinking] process of getting my affairs more organized so my sons will be able to find things easily when the time comes. I found an item in a catalog that I thought would be perfect for collecting and storing important papers. This was just before Christmas and I put it aside thinking I would take care of it after the holidays.

After the holidays had come and gone, I started looking for the catalog, but couldn't find it anywhere and finally decided I had thrown it away inadvertently. Resigned, I started looking for the item online.

Then, lo and behold, I found the catalog (in the bathroom). Joy, oh joy. I immediately took it and put it in the seat of my desk chair so I could place the order later in the day. But when later in the day came, the catalog was not where I had left it. (I live alone, so no one to blame but myself). I looked everywhere - again - retraced steps several times etc, etc., etc.
It was no where.

I found it later, but have no recollection at all of putting it where I found it. And to top it all off, the wonderful item, upon closer reading, was way too large to fit in my filing cabinet.

Steve, thanks for the link about the tests. I passed - so far so good!

Echoing down the years, I can still hear my Mother: "Patty, you'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on". It's been downhill from there. The most annoying thing for me about losing short term memory is forgetting names.

PS My husband just asked me, "What do you call those things you pick your teeth with?"

I'm having a hard time remembering what I ate yesterday thus, I'm sure there's a whole lot of other things...I can't remember...

Wanted to say hello and tell you I often think about my wonderful blogging freinds which then makes me want to blog again...however,just can't seem to motivate myself.. hope all is well..

Dorothy formerly from grammology

Group therapy or support group, whatever you want to call it, TGB fills the bill, Personally, I've gotten over the angst of short term memory deficiency but never the less it is comforting to know that there are many of us who find our car keys in the freezer and our glasses on top of our heads. So- "You got a memory problem?" Fagetabouit! Don't worry, be happy!

What I can count on remembering: why I'm in the bathroom.

While getting settled in our new condo during a recent move I took off my wedding band and the (large) diamond I inherited from my m-i-l and put them in a "safe" place. Somewhere here, only God knows where, I presume they are "safe". From me anyway. I'm not likely to have pawned them or gambled them away, but I wouldn't want to admit losing them either! Maybe I'll go look in the freezer.

The jokes on me. Yesterday I wrote a long comment on forgetting words and apparently previewed it and forgot to post it.

Ever so many thanks to all of you who have 'forgotten' so many special items!
I have been getting increasingly concerned about my own 'forgetfulness'. I ask for the daily schedule and do I recall it? Absolutely not! Annoying to me and frustrating to others. As a lifelong (practically) member of our Altar Guild I have decided to resign--Last week I could NOT remember just where everything went! Got to go before our priest gets to Communion and looks around wonderingly...Again thanks !

Tarzana, that was hilarious.

Just the other day I posted something here but could not remember the name I post under. So I had to make one up. And, you guessed it, I don't remember what that name was---or the post where I commented.

I am 59 and I worry a lot about memory loss because I am easily distracted and scatterbrained as well as a daydreamer. I remember gosh when I was 49 I decided I'd better buy an electric teakettle because i had forgotten too many times that the water had boiled in my regular teakettle. I'd just get distracted and forget it was on. I have an office job (worker bee, not boss lady) that is maddeningly detailed oriented. The buck stops with me in terms of every eye having to be dotted, etc. And my huge fear is the day that I start remembering the details, and have to be sent off to the glue factory. It's in my worrywort nature to write down everything, never trusting my memory, so that has helped me (I think). But I do worry very much what's going to happen when my memory starts to fail me. I am one of those people who will never be able to afford to retire. Not because of cruises and golfing in my golden years. Nope, it's because I just never earned much money and didn't sock enough away.

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