Are you overlooking the wisdom that comes with ageing?

"It's the display of our wisdom that should be referred to as a 'senior moment'. Not when we are having a weak moment", says the author, who is a senior citizen

Happy old woman showing thumsup

“Ma’am, you’ll have to do this again,” the young woman at the checkout counter in a popular Mumbai supermarket said, condescendingly surveying the wrinkles on my face. She pushed the card reader towards me and drummed her fingers impatiently on the counter top.

I took a deep breath and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. I thought I had inserted the correct PIN number into the machine, even taking care to cover the keypad so as to hide the number. While I was pondering over my possible error, the girl at the counter shoved the card reader towards me again. Her irritation was clear on her face as well as in her voice.

“Could something be wrong with your machine?” I asked, smiling sweetly.

She probably wanted to say, “Perhaps with your memory, you fossil”. Instead, she shot back, “Please, insert the correct PIN.”

I could sense the fidgeting of the people impatiently standing in the queue behind me. Not wanting to prolong my embarrassment, I said, rather fibbed, loudly, “Ah, I see, I’m using the blue card. Unfortunately, the PIN I entered was for my other card, the green one, you see.” All the while I wracked my brains to try and recall that elusive four-digit number.

“What senior moment?” I said, panting a little. “I have brain cells in a thousand shades of grey, young man.”

Finally, the PIN number hit me like a bright light. I was so excited at my triumph that I mistakenly shouted out the number. “I got it! It’s 1464,” I exclaimed. The girl at the counter didn’t share my elation, choosing to roll her eyes instead.

Relieved to be done with the ordeal, I was waddling across the car park with my grocery bags when a young man came up to me.

“It’s alright Aunty, you were just having a senior moment,” he said smiling, obviously trying to make me feel less uncomfortable about what had happened inside.

“What senior moment?” I said, panting a little. “I have brain cells in a thousand shades of grey, young man.”

“Sure,” he said, still smiling. “But after announcing your PIN to the whole store, you might want to consider changing it,” he added and hurried off. Good thing he reminded me, for the thought had not even crossed my mind.

Forgetfulness is not equal to ageing

Although most people associate forgetfulness with ageing, it is not necessarily a “senior problem”. It is not that older people forget things. We just take a little longer to remember, that’s all. My son once said to me, “Mum, admit it, your memory is getting weaker. It happens to all old people.”

So I explained my point using an analogy that his generation would understand.

“What happens to a computer when the hard disc is almost full?” I asked trying to sound as erudite as a computer expert, though I was more in the league of a cat trying to pose as a tiger.

“It slows down,” my son said patiently, knowing full well the extent of my knowledge of computers.

“Exactly,” I said, happy I’d elicited the answer I wanted. “That’s exactly what happens with older people. We’ve got so much knowledge stashed away in every nook and cranny of our brains that, naturally, we take a little longer to find information when we need it.”

It is not that older people forget things. We just take a little longer to remember, that’s all

In fact, gerontologists, who study various aspects of ageing, state that it’s normal for people’s brains to work slower as they age. That struggling to remember stuff doesn’t mean we’re developing a mental disorder.

Calling memory lapses ‘senior moments’ is ageist

It is a common misconception to equate memory lapses with ageing. Anyone, at any point in their life, can experience moments of forgetfulness. It is ageist to think that only older people forget things.

Labelling an incident when someone has a hard time remembering something as a “senior moment” is therefore incorrect. If you ask me, it would be more appropriate to equate moments when people display a more mature understanding of people or events, or share their wisdom with others as ”senior moments.”

While I concede that not all seniors are wise, I refuse to accept the common belief that ageing is the transformation of capable people with sharp brains into morons who can’t remember simple things. I believe that there are many positive changes that come with growing old.

The Golden Years: the pleasures of old age

With age, comes the ability to make more sense of the world and to better appreciate life and all that it offers. Also, once your days of being a spring chicken are far behind you, you sensibly begin giving importance only to the things that matter.

Having witnessed, endured, and experienced many different life situations, seniors are in a position to mentor younger folk and act as their guides in life. Therefore, the world needs to look at us as the old brooms who know all the dusty corners and not as burned out old fogeys who belong in the past.

I believe that there are many positive changes that come with growing old

It’s frustrating to me when my children worry that because I’m a senior citizen, I need to be looked after by other, younger people. They have no idea of how resourceful I can be when caught in a difficult situation. For instance, the other day I was again facing a potentially embarrassing situation at a supermarket. I was at the checkout counter, waiting to pay my bill, when I suddenly remembered I had not memorised the PIN of my new debit card.

I had no option but to think on my feet, even if it meant coming up with a lame excuse.

I gave the girl at the counter my sweetest “helpless old bat” smile, wrung my hands, and said, “My dear, I just remembered that when I switched handbags this morning, I forgot to transfer my debit card into this bag.”

Although the girl at the counter scowled at me, she cancelled the bill. I quietly slunk out of the market, cool as a cucumber. I slipped into a nearby store, bought just essential items with the cash I had on me and went home, pleased as hell for wriggling out of an awkward situation.

While forgetfulness is often wrongfully labelled as a “senior problem,” it sure comes in handy in some situations. When you’re an oldie and spin a yarn about forgetting, they really believe you forgot.

You may also like: Old is gold

Don’t panic

Forgetting things or taking longer to remember is not the same as suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. So don’t press the panic button if you find yourself struggling to put a name to a face or find the exact word to express yourself or if you go to the fridge and forget why you went there. However, if you fail to recognise the fridge as yours, then that would be a matter of concern.

This was first published in the August 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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