ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities: San Francisco
Paper versus Screen Reading

Is This an Uncharted Lapse of Old Age?

A few days ago, 69-year-old Richard Lombard told me that as he left his home on a foggy Sunday morning, he wondered for a moment why the construction across the way was wrapped in Tylenol.

Of course the name on the wrap was the well-known Tyvek but his brain had briefly substituted a brand of acetaminophen. Richard theorized that the heavy fog and having just wakened from a confusing dream caused the glitch but I'm not so sure.

My reason is that my brain has been substituting similar-looking, unrelated, words for what's really there fairly frequently for several years.

It happens to me a lot when I'm reading but also when I'm writing so I've learned to be extra careful with blog posts and emails.

I catch such errors (when I do; it's not a hundred percent) because the context is usually as weird (and, sometimes, funny) as Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek. A house wrapped in a lot of little white pills is an image not easily ignored.

LATER INSERT: In the second paragraph above, I initially typed the phrase “heavy fork” instead of “heavy fog.” I didn't catch it until about the third read-through and it can't be dismissed as a simple typo. God, tog, jog, hog, fob, among others, are plausible typos in that instance. With “fork” something else is at work.

What I know in a lifetime of writing for a living is that this kind of mistake didn't happen in my youth and middle years. It's new-ish, a couple of years, maybe three or four.

Sometimes I wonder if it is related to the problem of opposites I have dealt with all my life - things involving black/white, yes/no, up/down, left/right. A real-life example:

At my last job, I was a member of a committee of six or seven people, each representing a different department or area of expertise, assigned to research and decide if we should move forward with a several million dollar project.

Many months of work later, we met to make our decision. After final presentations and discussion, the vote was taken and when I returned to my desk, I couldn't recall if it was yes or no.

This wasn't new to me. It's not uncommon that I can't remember the choice even two or three minutes after the fact. As a result I am a prodigious note-taker.

What I am not, however, is a psychologist, a neurologist, a specialist in linguistics or any other kind of expert in the behavior and pathology of the brain. I am so ignorant of these disciplines that I have no business doubting that Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek language lapse is related, as he guesses, to fog or dreams.

Still, I think there may be something more or different to it.

Growing old is time consuming. Just when we arrive at a period in our lives when we haven't all that much time left, our minds and bodies conspire to eat up way too much of that time. Our movement slows, we tire more easily and our brains slow down leaving us staring mutely into space over a name or simple little word we've known all our lives.

Doesn't seem fair, does it, adding yet another thing to the list that steals time from us – although it is fair to say that it's hardly a big deal in life; just interesting, a small puzzle.

It wouldn't take too much proof to convince me that these word substitutions are unrelated to age, that they are nothing more than carelessness or reading too quickly. But it doesn't quite feel like that to me.

Does any of this click with readers out there?


Speaking of funny old lady moments... I wrote a lovely comment full of praise and gratitude for Ronni writing on this subject. As I pointed out about the post.. "It's me". Then wouldn't you know, I forgot to hit post.

Have a happy and pleasant day Ronni.

In Richard's case, I'd consider whether the perceptual principle of gestalt psychology my apply.

"The neural and perceptual organization of any set of stimuli will form a whole as good as the prevailing conditions will allow." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

When we see only a part of an image or word, in some cases, we tend to complete them with what we relate to, "know".

I do not claim to know any more on the subject than I have just typed above--and I don't "know" that, but suspect his in seeing "TY" he automatically completed that with what he may see daily following those two letters: "ENOL".

Several years ago, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville hired a new football coach and put up billboards all over town to welcome him. I noticed one for the first time and wondered who on earth wanted to "Welcome Lame Kitten." It actually read, "Lane Kiffen."

All of the above & then some. If I were younger I would research the daylights out of this, consult all kinds of experts, but that spirit of wanting to learn/know escapes me these days. So many changes, so little time. I'm trying to just live in the moment which also sounds much easier than it is. Have a great day, everyone. Dee:)

Please, everyone, don't take this too seriously. I was remiss in not making a better joke of it. These kinds of things happen in many varieties. They are not debilitating. I just think it's kind of fun to notice them.

Am 55 now. Has been happening to me and my SO for at least 15+ years. My Mom was doing it when I was a kid. We joked that we'd never know if she got Alzheimer's because she's been this way as long as we can remember. As far as I have noticed, and this is anecdotal, it happens more in folks who love word play.

I accept all of the above theories about how these things happen and have experienced all of them. I would also add my own gradually increasing problem of less visual acuity when reading small type or any type less than 100% clear. The mind tries to make sense of it as quickly as possible, but not always correctly. Then there's the typing problem. Either I'm getting worse (and vision may play a part) or autocorrect is jumping in ahead of me and guessing wrongly about my intent. I've not yet tried turning off autocorrect to see what happens, but it might be worth a try just to see where the problem lies. Perhaps I'm in denial and don't want to know ...

Yes, yes, and yes. All of the above. I look up in horror sometimes, to see that what I've typed out is a series of nonsensical letters with spaces in between. Turns out that my strange way of typing (using touch and look-see combined) seems to be letting me down, as I insist on working quickly in spite of aging! So, it seems, I'll be slowing down in spite of my natural inclination to do the most I can in the least possible time!

Totally clicks. A definite increase in sound-alike typos (similar increase among older friends). Two parts to this I think. One is tech + no copy editors (NYT and other pubs). The other is less efficient brain search engine and filter.

It feels similar to slippage in automatic acts resulting in putting the milk in the cupboard etc. The good news is being able to catch these slip ups and some of the very funny results.

Yes to all of the above. I am a worse typist than ever, typing all sorts of variations on the words I mean to type. And, I can have a conversation, assent to something, and then 15 or 20 minutes later forget that I agreed.

I think some word misappropriation might come from anemia. I can't remember where I read that anemia causes symptoms like this. I tend to be anemic, and it seems like the symptoms are worse if I don't take iron. Sounds silly, but it might be true in my case.

But all of the above--yes in my case.

Oh yes, and it seems to happen more and more often in both reading and writing.

I recently wrote and sent a note regarding a "cute toilet" instead of a "cute toddler." I don't think it was a spell check error, but that's what I blamed it on.

I have noticed that past decade an increasing problem with remembering the names of things...remembering the correct noun. I know it is related to being older...elderly...whatever you want to call it. It is not because my brain is too full of stuff!

I have been fascinated with brain science, particularly as it relates to language and communication, for decades and though I have only a bachelor's degree in psychology, I have probably gained as much knowledge through my own reading and studies in this area than if I'd completed a doctoral degree. These odd word use/perception phenomena occur throughout life. Though I can't say whether they are more frequent as we age, we may become more aware of them for a number of reasons, not the least among those being our concern that they may indicate cognitive decline. I remember a meal at a friend's house more than fifty years ago, when I was about ten. My friend's mother, who would have been in her 30's, was asking for something that I can't recall now, but what she asked that someone pass her was "crow jelly." We all had a good laugh, and that phrase worked its way into many conversations over the years.

Stories of people who have tendencies towards things such as malapropisms and other verbal gaffes are more common than we might think. I think that perhaps as long as we are aware of these occurrences, and are able to laugh when they happen, that we may still be okay. It's when we lose awareness of what we are doing or saying, or perceiving that we may need to become more concerned.

There is a current program on PBS, both fascinating and easily understandable, "The Brain" with David Eagleman. Eagleman has done some of the most illuminating studies on the brain over the past decade and provides explanations and examples of many things that affect our perception and communication.

It happens to me all the time, and because I carry one copy of the ApoE4 gene, which gives me a higher risk of getting Alzheimer's, these lapses cause me a good deal of concern. They are certainly getting more frequent. (I have a 30-35% chance of getting the disease; it is now also known that women with this gene variant get AD more than men do.)

I just turned 60, but I've noticed these word mix-ups getting worse of over the past two years. One strange thing that happens all the time is thinking a word and then seeing my fingers type a completely different word. Those are not typos.

Unrelated words slip out in conversation sometimes too, and worst of all, being in the middle of a sentence and pausing because a commonplace word just will not come to mind happens all too frequently.

My father was diagnosed with AD at 65. If that happens to me in the same way, perhaps I have only five good years left. Yikes!

I no longer even try to play the piano (I never was very good at it anyway) because my hand/eye coordination is so poor. And my typing was never world-class either. I took typing in high school solely because I wanted to go into journalism and knew I'd have to use typing to make a living. It has served me well throughout my life, but I seem to be getting worse rather than more efficient at it.

Part of my problem stems from having to use one hand for the mouse and then moving that hand back to the keyboard and misplacing my hand on the keyboard. I wind up with lines of type that make no sense before I catch the error.

I, too, sometimes catch a part of a word and my mind interprets it to another word. Sometimes it's very funny...

My sons told me they wouldn't notice if I started getting lost on trips because I always got lost which I denied. Then they reminded how many times I took them places by an unplanned "scenic route." They are right but we always got there, mostly on time.

Still I find I have lost the word for something when I'm talking and that has slowed my conversations down. My best friend of many years and I have long phone talks with gaps where both of us know who or what it is we can't name and just go on. The name or whatever often comes back later in the conversation. We've decided it's all in there what we need is some extra RAM for human brains to access it all.

This all absolutely clicks with me. My favorite, that I can remember :-) Is Virility Palates for Vitality Palates. And it happens every time I see that sign. What is more frustrating is losing a crucial, familiar word in conversation--which I will retrieve after fishing around a bit--but the damage is done. It is a great relief to see all you here having the same problem.

I have a very old friend, 94 now, and alas fading, but in her eighties, she had these lapses and asked her doctor about them. The doc said, "I am not impressed, Beth," Beth at the time being her usual brilliant self. ( I just had a terrible time finding how to get the proper quotation mark--which I use all the time. . .

Yep, me too. And it's usually a word that has two of the same letters as the word I meant to use. It feels like my brain is like some over-eager friend rushing in to complete the word before I finish forming it.

(I too wonder if it has to do with being a writer/wordplay person?)

And proper names are another problem. I will remember a person's life story, where and when we met, what happened - but just don't ask me to remember the name!!

It's usually easy to just laugh off. Between us, though, it's the fact that my Mom died of AD that makes it scary.

At somewhere around age 70, I'm 74 now, my mind decided to stop recognizing any difference whatsoever between the words "your're" and "your". Apparently my mind decided that at my age we need to save as much time as possible so if they sound the same that's good enough, so let's just go with the shorter version of the word - "your". So now, whether blogging or some other personal journalistic endeavor you will surely encounter this recent phenomenon showing up in my writing. Even "spell check" must apparently be in cahoots because I continuously use the shorter version and it never objects! :(

See... I can't even spell "you're" right anymore!!!!!!

It all sounds so familiar. Sigh!

I think our brains run in auto-complete mode, but now they aren't so quick to say "hang on, that's not right" and auto-correct. The old example of "F y cn rd ths..." showed it was still readable without the vowels. On the upside, the misread signs are usually funnier and more memorable than the correct reading - visual mondegreens.

My problem is that I never remember the ends of books or movies. unless they are extremely dramatic and memorable. But I don't think my problem is age-related; I've always been that way. It's lame-brained related. I do find it has become more difficult to keep track of the keys, the glasses, the phone, the change, the wallet, the iPad. But I don't attribute that to age. We just have too many things to keep track of!

Is it just me, or did the type on this blog change and become easier to read? Maybe it changed last week and I didn't notice.
I have always misread words and have an extreme dislike for reading out loud.

The type today is beautifully readable! What a nice change.

Not quite the same thing, but when texting or typing emails, I frequently type homophones: "are" for "our", "there" for "their", "to" for "too". I am a stickler about grammar, so it drives me nuts when I do this, particularly when I find the mistake only after I've hit "Send". It doesn't seem like merely a typo to me, there's something else going on. And count me among those who have noticed, increasingly, that I can't find the word I want....it's on the tip of my tongue, but it takes a bit longer than it should to come out my mouth. I'm 57, and this has been going on for a few years.

Welcome to the world of dyslexia. My brain has done this to me for years.

I proofread my stuff a little more carefully than I used to and find myself making a few more in-process corrections, but otherwise I still type pretty accurately. As far as "losing" words here and there and forgetting names, count me in. Trying to deal with texting probably hasn't helped, but mistakes don't look as much like mistakes in text-ese.

Although the new typeface is very readable, it looks like everything is in bold.

My mother was an organist at a church a few miles from home and on her way a billboard she passed troubled her, so one time when I was riding with her she told me as we approached the billboard that there was something wrong with it and to please read it to see if I could figure out the problem. Well we had a good laugh when I read the sign for Planters Peanuts in which someone had transposed sections of the posting and it read "Planuts Peaners"! To this day I laugh when I come across Planters Peanuts in a store.

I make similar mistakes but not quite on such a grand scale!

I find that my lapses come most often when typing emails, etc. and I wonder if it is not only age-related, but spell-check related. I have never been a good speller, despite being an avid reader. Now that I am told I've made a mistake, and some programs correct or suggest the correct spelling, I no longer have to stretch for it. Use it or lose it sort of thing? Not sure.

'night everyone!

There's one word in my vocabulary that persistently hides behind another one. When I want to write, or say, Asperger's... always, invariably, without fail, the word that first comes to my mind is Alzheimer's. I know it's not the word I want! But it has at times taken me twenty minutes to reach past it to find Asperger's.

It's faster now, since I learned the trick of going through the alphabet for second letters. When I get to 'As-' then the right word clicks into place. STILL, the next time I want to talk about someone on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, I am going to have to go through the same darn routine.

Okay, sure, maybe it's connected to a bit of anxiety on my part. But I think it's mostly that the two words begin and end the same, and somehow, I have a stupid neuron in there that's just wired wrong.

I've suffered thru-and made my kids and ex-husbands ..3 in number and very close friends suffer thru malapropisms.. since I was in my mid 30s. I'd say...please vacuum the lawn and mow the living room-smash (instead of mash) the potatoes and other things that made me sound just plain messed up.

The kids coped with it much better than my 2 (now divorced from) husbands did..they thought I was doing it on purpose...just to drive THEM a bit batty...as if?

We still laugh at the 'mow the living room one'-this was just before a big Thanksgiving dinner party of 32 people. Still, we made it thru the event.

I think it's funny and so do the 4 children AND the 6 grandkids who laugh at my speaking style now! The husbands aren't speaking to me (thanks guys) and we still tell the stories at the dinner table over Thanksgiving..one of our traditions along with listening to 'Alice's Restaurant'--along with the have to have green bean casserole perhaps.

Laugh at yourself and the world will laugh with (not at) you. I'm pushing 73 really hard think January 2016 and thinking that "Spel Chek", which offers some interesting alternative words, to those of us who had a job that used sort of weird words.

Best wishes to all..and may I be the first to wish all of you a very happy holiday season.
Elle in Beaverton, OR.....a neighbor, sort of Ronnies One of these days we'll have to do lunch?

There is a member of my husband's choir named Izmo.

I can never remember that man's name!

It's not that I don't like Izmo. It's not because he's forgettable.

He's a cool man with a strong voice and a hearing aid.

I can rhyme off all the other choir guy names, but not Izmo.

My husband tortures me.."what's that man's name again?"

And I say "don't tell me. Let me guess."

"Is it Satchmo? No.. uh, Bingo? No, wait.. Itchmo?"

"How come you can't remember it?"

"Maybe for the same reason you can never find the hammer?"

So, Izmo has joined my Pilates class, and since he doesn't want to put his mat down under the ceiling fan, he's right beside me now in the front row.

Picture that.

Now it's really important for me not to mess up his name.

Pressure city.

I tried all my teacher tricks to remember his name.

Here is my solution:

*in my head as I walk into the gym*

"Izyou iz or Izyou not my baby?"

"Izmo iz or Izmo's not a lady."

Weirdly enough, it works.

Ronni, I love this bigger font.

It Iz just right for my sore eyes.

Let me join those complimenting you on the current typography. I had a hard time with the previous iteration. I could imagine its attraction, but it didn't work for me.

My typing is worse than it ever was but I blame the new keyboards. It's their fault - not mine. Never.

As for the rest -what you wrote about is more and more familiar. But I am trying now, which I didn't when I was younger, to simplify and strip my life of the non-essentials. I think we are bombarded with too much "unnecessary sounds" - cutting them out as much as possible has helped me to remember the "necessary sounds."

I have as much trouble groping for words that once came easily as the next old fart, but that's a problem with solutions: automatic spell check helps as does an amazing Roget's edition (no, they're not all alike) that I found. The most relatable and disturbing part of Ronni's essay to me was when she says "Old age is time consuming. Just when we . . . haven't all that much time left, our minds and bodies conspire to eat up too much of that time."

In the past few years, I have literally wept at the way my body has slowed to the point where chores that were once almost incidental are now time and labor consuming obstacles to getting through my days. Every step I take, every movement, seems to be in slow motion. This is partly because of arthritic joints and fibromyalgia-stiffened muscles, but it's also due to necessary precautions to prevent falling. I shouldn't complain about aging since, having lived through several major surgeries including a heart bypass, it's amazing that I'm still alive at 80 and living in my own home.

But I frequently feel a sort of duality, as if I, an old and slow old lady myself, have a job taking care of another old, slow old lady. This crabby old lady (apologies, Ronni), my alter ego, takes incredible amounts of my time preparing meals she doesn't even enjoy, taking care of her personal hygiene, driving her to health care appointments and the grocery store, hiring people to do all the things she used to do easily herself, sorting and maintaining her medications, making an effort to keep her difficult to manage house clean---all while she spends her time writing web commentary, doing crossword puzzles, and emailing articles to ungreatful recipients. I am just too old and tired for this and I am seriously considering putting her in a "home."

Emmajay - this is priceless writing while being dead-on sobering to the weariness of elderly struggles, and I must remark that it's what I needed to jolt me out of a self-imposed funk by my alter-native ego - thank you!

Hi Ronni
Such a timely subject!

I have been doing word substitution in written material for at least 5 years. (I'm 81.)

Usually the substitutions are funny to me. Who wants to see the movie "The King's Spleen"
(The King's Speech) or visualize "floating derbies" (debris) in the water after Hurricane Sandy!

So far, I've been filing this 'happening' in the Benign Senescent Forgetfulness category.
I'll be interested in what other readers have to say.

Thank you so much for your hard work, humor and commitment in keeping this wonderful show on the road!

Yes, at 82 I experience all the the things mentioned in these posts--increasingly so for the last 3 years. However, I still laugh when I remember one from my 3-decades-younger self. I was driving down our main highway and paying close attention to the dangerous traffic on this road, when I did a sort of double-take over something I read on a sign alongside the road. I thought it read "dentists' meeting, at such and such a time." My mind immediately said to me "Oh? Are there really that many dentists?" A mile or two down the road, I started to laugh as I realized the sign was out in front of a condo building and what it really said was "RESIDENTS' MEETING!" Rare at 50, not at all rare at 82! It helps to laugh and compare stories.

I have been trying to understand and navigate my "aged" future, and I just finished a hybrid memoir (hybrid because it's an imagined future and somewhat of an altered past). It really helped me to try to imagine my future self when I no longer have my beloved and long-time husband. I am childless.

I just found this blog. I found that the many things I struggled to "confront" in myself and the culture at large are echoed here, but one was not--cosmetics, for example. They simply aren't made for wrinkles, furrows and aging eyes (keep that eyeliner pencil at arm's length!)

I'm only 72, but I found that journaling out how I felt and reacted to things was really a positive step. I posted my ebook last week, not because I want it to sell, but to fulfill a "bucket list" piece at 72. Thanks to all of you for posting the helpful and interesting aspects of your experience. Does anyone have any experience with aging with Aspergers or similar socially challenged conditions?

I posted my book, by the way, with a pen name, because part of me is really anxious about public rebuke, but I wanted to be honest with myself. Perhaps there's someone out there who has had similar experiences. Book is titled Time Share: An Anthology on Aging in Place.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)