Those things that some of us call senior moments are not necessarily signs of early dementia. They’re just an indication that we’ve lived so long, our brains are full. If we have trouble remembering a word, it’s because we have to scroll through so very many words we have accumulated through the years till we hit on the right one.
That comforting thought came in a paper from “Topics in Cognitive Science” describing the work of linguistic researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany and reported by Benedict Cary in yesterday’s New York Times. It’s always been a given in psychology that, starting at about age 25, the brain ages, and these researchers started with the same assumption. But they employed data mining based on theories of information processing, Cary writes, and “used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases…Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging ‘deficits’ largely disappeared.”
See? That senior moment was just your brain riffling through the files.
As people who worked our entire lives with words, Ed and I continually use one another as living, breathing thesauruses (thesaurusi?): “What’s that word that means putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward? You know, not running but…” “Walking?” “Yes, that’s it. Thanks.”
I exaggerate but sometimes the elusive word is almost as simple. The same is true with spelling. How can a person who knows how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism now not know how to spell judgment? And thank goodness for Spell Check. When I can’t ask someone else, there’s always the tactic of typing the word as close to accurately as I can and turning myself over to the computer gods for assistance. Or asking my husband.
Our desks are across from one another. “Excuse me, can I interrupt you for a second?” “You just did.” “Oops, sorry. But since I have, what is the word that means…”
Isn’t that comforting? After years of fearing, “Am I losing it?”, we old geezers can be just a little smug. “You wouldn’t be nearly so fast if your were carrying the load I’ve got”. 😉
One trick I’ve found useful while hunting for the right spelling is to do a Google search on the word I know isn’t spelled right. By keeping Google open in another tab, I can paste the word into the search field and get instant lists of words that may be phonetically close. Google tries much harder than the suggestions that show on most spell checks.
I sometimes do a similar trick when groping for that elusive word that just escapes me. I keep another tab open in the browser with thesaurus.com. I paste in the closest word I can think of, “Not walking, but ….hiking, that’s it”. Since thesaurus.com isn’t nearly as fast as Google, I might search for a competitor, or maybe Google will soon add that as yet another amazing service, just to know what we are thinking about.