NOT TOO LONG AGO, you only had to remember your PIN number for ATM transactions. (You can now use fingerprints.) Now, with online banking and digital wallets, other usernames and passwords have crowded into your memory bank. And for your safety, passwords need to be changed periodically. (Sir, you’ve used that password before.) Sure, you can write them down somewhere — but will you remember where you kept that file?
“Senior moments” (SM — they’ve got it all) are so readily invoked by those who routinely get discounts from restaurants and drugstores (but not barbershops and spas) and don’t mind being given dagger looks for jumping the queue to the airport check-in. SM’s encompass lapses of memory especially visited on those who routinely dye their hair and skip eyebrows and nose hairs.
Memory loss is not always of the severe Alzheimer variety where a sufferer seems to meet new people every day, even if they look the same. Its more common occurrence has to do with partial recall and momentary lapses.
You attend a reunion where you are supposed to know everyone, and then certain faces draw a blank. Okay, masked people who greet you can understand if you don’t recognize them. But what if they take off the face mask, and they still look unfamiliar?
You try to reconfigure the face and body to shed 30 pounds, not necessarily to be able to put this on a billboard, but just to match it to its high school version that may be more familiar. It becomes embarrassing when a stranger approaches your table and you order coffee, only for this unidentified alien to reveal himself as a high school classmate. This can be embarrassing, unless waiting on tables is really his new job. (Can a sob story be far behind?)
You are walking around in a mall and a familiar rotund figure in a gaudy orange blouse approaches you and vigorously shakes your hand and then hugs you. Clearly, the person knows you enough to exchange body heat, even if only for a moment. You vaguely remember where she works and ask how the company is doing. She is taken aback — you know I was forced to take early retirement; you even attended my farewell party. (Now you are sinking in a memory swamp.) You quickly excuse yourself — Catch you later. I need to get a root canal.
It is at random occasions like funerals that the memory lapse becomes pronounced. If no one looks familiar, including the special guest of honor in sublime repose, is it possible you are in the wrong chapel? It feels like a dream, and you are lying down.
Memory resides in different parts of the brain. Short-term memory (I have this recurring dream of forgetting to return a library book that is racking up fines) resides in the hippocampus, named after the seahorse, as it’s shaped like one. Short-term memory is eventually stored in the larger long-term memory which holds your date of birth, Cassius’ speech to Brutus in Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” (I do not know what you and other men think of this life…), multiplication tables, the seven deadly sins, Latin declensions of nouns, and your first trip abroad.
It is comforting to know that even when having senior moments, information is not irretrievably lost. Partial clues are enough to send you to Google and feed it with verbal clues and partial names. The mobile phone and notebook keep a directory of numbers with their corresponding names. The list has been accumulating over maybe 15 years. This is net of the deletions— and don’t ever call me again.
Although scrolling down this alphabetical list, you are sure to encounter an unfamiliar name (Lola) perhaps encoded (Not granny) — who is this person? It is too dangerous to send a suggestive text message to this unknown entity. It needs to be clearly harmless — Sister, when is our next prayer meeting? One is likely to get an angry — “hu dis?” Sorry, ma’am, wrong send.
What about those in the directory that have already passed away? Does one delete accordingly? What if one gets a call from an uncancelled but already deceased caller? It’s best not to answer.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda