I believe that accusing someone of having a “senior moment” is harmful. Furthermore, I don’t really believe in senior moments.
Standing by an open refrigerator door, wondering what you’re looking for, is hardly exclusive to those over sixty. Neither is forgetting where you left your keys or which day is the right day to put out the garbage. Anyone, at any age, can do it. At fifteen, I’d hurl myself into the kitchen, wanting to tell my mother something, just to find that only a sense of urgency remained in my head.
At thirty, my memory stalled out just as often as it does now that I’m sixty-five. At the height of my career, I frequently spoke at workshops on my specialty—portfolio assessment. Usually that meant that I’d finish a week’s worth of classes and then hit the airport headed for some destination that was seldom a straight-forward non-stop trip. On the plane out I’d be finalizing the details of my talk. Under those conditions, stress led to memory loss. Once I stood before an audience of two-hundred with my mouth open and my mind blank, trying and failing to remember the third of three major assessment principles. We all laughed in recognition of our joint humanity, no one pointed to my age.
Last year, I stopped dead in the middle of my Shakespeare lecture because I couldn’t remember the third of three major points I want to make about the nature of tragedy. When I told a colleague, she laughed, “Had a senior moment, did you?’
Why is it that after a person reaches sixty, forgetting even the simplest of things is attributed to age?
“Don’t forget…” my friend reminds me. “Don’t let this turn into a senior moment!”
She’s been reminding me to do something or another for the past twenty years. She’s talking to the woman who fifteen years before drove home without her purse despite having pasted a post-it note that proclaimed DON’T FORGET YOUR PURSE!!! over the light switch in the office.
Senior moment, indeed.
Over-reacting? Perhaps, but “senior moments” have a dark underbelly that just isn’t funny.
My mother developed severe non-Alzheimer related dementia in her seventies. First she forgot specific words, then couldn’t work the coffee pot, and finally got lost in the house where she’d lived for twenty-years. That’s the life many of us—myself and hundreds of thousands of others—fear will be right behind those “funny” senior moments. We dread becoming one of the confused elderly women who can’t figure out how much money is in their hands or the men who tell the same story three times in fifteen minutes.
Bottom line. Let’s abolish the term “senior moment” from our national vocabulary. Here are three major reasons:
1. It implies incompetence.
2. It’s ageist.
3. It reminds some of us of what might be our future, and therefore, borders on the cruel.
(I don’t always forget third points.)
And what if I want a snappy alternative phrase to explain forgetful moments, or you want to ease those embarrassing lapses of someone you know? Try variations of these:
When names or information escape the memory, refer to “intellectual overload.”
When lost for words? Obviously, “waiting for the muse.”
If standing in the middle of the room, looking helplessly around, trying to figure out what comes next? “Flakey” or “zoned out.” “Unreachable from earth” or “unable to access information.”
Anything but “having a senior moment.”
I will no longer have senior moments, and I won’t let others accuse me of having them either.