It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I am getting old,” especially when they had forgotten something. My friends would often joke about what would happen when they grow older and I would hear them say, “Next time we will be bickering about who left behind what and where and whose fault it was.” This seems to be a universal understanding or acceptance where being forgetful is part and parcel of growing older. I observed that people who made such remarks could be as young as 35 or as old as 65. Those who were younger would exacerbate the situation by reaffirming the older (either parents, relatives or friends) by saying, “You are getting old,” when they had misplaced things, forgotten the names of people or places they need to recall or where they had parked their car.
I had the opportunity to ask a lovely woman in her late 60s about whether she finds herself getting more forgetful when she was getting older. She exclaimed with great conviction, “That’s TRUE!” I had to gain my composure after what felt like I had asked a stupid question, and continued to ask her to share some examples. She said she has slowed down and takes a longer time to read information or materials than before. She was a teacher before and could recall all her students’ names by the third lesson but now she could not even recall the name of the person she was introduced to recently at her current part time work place.
Politely, I rationalised about the aging process causing us to slow down physically thus, making us slower over time and that her ability to recall her students’ names was part of her job. She was required to remember them so a more deliberate effort was made. The people that come and go at her current office was not her immediate colleagues so she need not make an effort to recall. She gave me an awkward look and then said, “I also forget where I put my things and find greater difficulty driving around even at familiar places.”
I took a deep breath and said a little prayer that I would not make her furious and continued to reason further by saying that she may have a lot of things on her mind that made her forget things and that happens to almost everyone, even teenagers would ask their parents where are their things that they had misplaced themselves. She pursed her lips but I continued and said that our roads have become busier than before due to the increase of vehicles and population so it has become harder to drive on the roads. On top of that, our reflexes do get slower with age. Her eyes widened and she stared at me for awhile and then said softly, “That’s true also.” Thankfully, she seemed to have loosened up and confided, “I am most fearful of getting dementia.”
However, it was when I hypothesised that we have accepted that forgetfulness is part of growing older that it has become a self-fulfilling prophesy, that she gave me the most bewildered look. This idea came from the theory of classical conditioning which is a type of learning in the school of psychology known as behaviourism.
Here’s a simplistic example; you had forgotten something and said, “Oh, I am growing old,” and the people around you agreed by citing their similar experience or agreed that you were getting old, be it jokingly or not. This leads to an affirmation that the situation (forgetfulness) equates to growing older. Eventually, the environment of others reaffirming that forgetting means growing older, would lead everyone into believing that being forgetful is in fact due to growing older. Thus, the hypothesis is TRUE.
This is a very scary and depressing situation and it does not have be that way. The term self-fulfilling prophesy showed that something can be done about it and it is not inevitable. Of course it does not mean we need to become a memory master or never will forget anything but the first thing you can do is to stop the affirmations.
In other words, stop saying “I am getting old,” whenever you forget something. To those around you who say such things, you can say, “This is not true. I reject this,” perhaps to yourself if it may have dire consequences when said aloud. The next step is to have a more organised life and have good habits of mindful activities. You might ask what these may be. There lies the next blog. Till then and on a more positive note, “Growing older is filled with wonderful years of experience making us wiser and more courageous to face what lies ahead. Old is GOLD!”