Getting “threw” old age

I’m not that old…but I’m older than I used to be.  Of course, that’s true of a two-day old baby, right? 😉

However, I can’t say I’m exactly in mint condition any more.  If I were being graded by an Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide user, I’d probably be VG (Very Good).  You know, I’m not missing any staples yet, but my corners may be blunted and I might have “moderate creases”. 😉

My Wii Fit usually tells me I’m in great condition…ten years or more younger than my chronological age.   I don’t look ten years younger, though…but I never have.  Certainly starting when I was in high school, people have figured I was older than I was.  When a sibling and I would go someplace, people sometimes thought we were parent and child.

That doesn’t bother me, though.

The mental thing…that gets me.  I’ve always counted on having a relatively sharp mind.  I’m not saying I’m a genius or anything like that, but I’m good in improvisational situations.  I also know all kinds of useless information…and a lot that is useful as well.

However…

I don’t retain new things as quickly and easily as I used to be able to do.  I used to be able to tell you verbatim a conversation we had three days ago.  Now, sometimes, I forget that somebody told me something.  This can be the most important person in the world to me, and be something that I really should remember.

More frustrating is that my fingers have a mind of their own sometimes.  I type pretty quickly (I tested out in the low 90s WPM…Words Per Minute).  That’s not superfast, but it’s better than average.  I used to do that with very few errors.

Now, when I go back and look at these things I write, I sometimes have made the most peculiar (and sometimes horrendous) mistakes.

Here’s what prompted this post:

I wrote an article about the passing of Frederick Morrison, inventor of the Frisbee.

No, no, that’s not the issue…interest in that kind of thing is normal for me.🙂

I was reading it after publication, and I had typed the word “threw” as “through”. Now, I absolutely know the difference. I can still proofread well, and that’s why I caught it.  Should I have proofread it before publishing it? Of course…but I try to get things out pretty quickly.  I had just started to promote this blog (it’s brand new), so I wanted to get a different kind of post out there for newbies doing the free trial thing.

I was actually shocked to see that, though. I quickly updated the post…even before I should have been doing other things. That’s one nice thing about digital…you can fix things.

I look at that and wonder how it happened. “Through” is harder to type than “threw”…more letters, for one thing. If anybody had asked me to spell it for them, I would absolutely have spelled it the right way. The fact that it is a homonym doesn’t explain it to me…I don’t hear the words as I type (or when I read, for that matter).

Other times, it’s more bizarre. I’ll look at a sentence and there will be something in there with no real connection…like the word “kayak” in the middle of somewhere.

It’s a little bit like I’m Robert Culp in the Harlan Ellison-penned Outer Limits episode, Demon with a Glass Hand.  My hands are telling me things I don’t really understand.

Demon with a Glass Hand…there’s an example of that memory thing.  I knew the title of that, and it came to me without a problem.   Sometimes, though, I have some trouble recalling something I really should know…like the Secretary of the Treasury‘s name.

It kind of seem like your brain is a hard drive.  All the stuff that got put on there in the beginning is fine.  As you get closer to capacity, though, odd things happen.  Your more recent files may be corrupted, because there isn’t enough memory left to handle the storage efficiently.

I read something years ago that made sense to me.  That’s the idea that dreaming may be when you are “defragging the disc”.  It’s a way to run through all the programs, test them out, reorganize them.  That’s why you would dream about things you wouldn’t typically do in real life, like running away from danger.  If you ever need to do that, your brain wants to make sure that program still works.  It may also be moving things around, and accidentally and temporarily combine images in the process.

That explains why, if sleep researchers let you sleep but keep you from dreaming (by waking you up when you hit REM…Rapid Eye Movement sleep for example) you’ll start hallucinating within days.  Your body is getting the rest it needs, but your brain isn’t getting to put things in order.

Under this hypothesis, it’s better not to remember your dreams.  I used to make an effort to remember them…I even had a dream diary next to the bed.   That didn’t always work, though.  I was involved with a stage production of Cinderella once.  I literally brought a Ziploc of ashes from our fireplace at home to help “decorate” the set.  So, I was waking up once, and wanted to write down one word to remind me of a dream.   However, I wasn’t really awake…I was still asleep.  I dreamt I used the ashes in the bag to write the key word on the bag itself.  I woke up and realized I hadn’t written anything down, of course…so I wrote it down again.  Unfortunately, I was still dreaming…I dreamt I woke up and wrote it down in ashes  seven times in succession.  It wasn’t actually until later in the day that I went to look for the bag of ashes, and realized it was at the theatre the whole time.  :)  I stopped trying to remember my dreams decades ago, although apparently, that hasn’t prevented the “through/threw” issue all these years later.

I also have an interesting hypothesis of my own about why some older drivers drive more slowly.  You can be behind somebody on the freeway who is going 45.  You happen to both get off at the same exit.  You are in a thirty-five mile an hour zone, and that driver is going twenty-five.  That seems weird to me…I know you can drive thirty-five miles an hour…you were going forty-five on the freeway. 

My fanciful idea is that your head is so full of stored perceptions from half a century or more of driving that you actually process images more slowly.  It looks to you like you are going faster than you are, since (in the analogy of the now-past film days), you are seeing fewer frames per second.

That’s just a fun idea, though…I’m sure there’s nothing to it.

My father, by the way, doesn’t have any of these issues, and neither does my mother.  They are both super-sharp verbally, and I don’t think either of them makes these kind of “substitution errors”.  My grandmother did, though…I would get called by my father’s name when I was a kid, for instance. 

So, I’ll be interested to see how things go.  I don’t think these are signs that I’m heading down dementia alley.  We all worry about that, I think…it’s probably more part of our cultural consciousness than it was of my parents’ generation. 

I was very grateful to Dr. Dean Edell when he put it in perspective.  He said something like, “If you are standing there wondering where your keys are, that’s not Alzheimer’s.  If you are standing there wondering what your keys are, that’s Alzheimer’s.”

🙂

Anyway, as long as my proofreading skills are good, I’ll try and look at these before publishing.  I’m still guessing, though, that some things are going to make it into the world before I notice.  Just so you know, it doesn’t bother me at all if somebody lets me know about an error I’ve made.  There are times we disagree about what is an error, but there are other times I’m just as puzzled at what I did as you are. 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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