TOM UTLEY: At last – after years of being mocked as a senile old fool, here’s the proof young ‘uns like my sons have senior moments, too
Once in a while, even in these grim times, there comes a snippet of news to lift the most downtrodden heart.
Such a morsel of cheer lifted mine this week, with the evidence in yesterday’s paper that young people have no business to sneer at us old folk when we suffer the occasional senior moment. For they’re just as bad.
I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years when our own four sons have rolled their eyes and laughed at me contemptuously when I’ve forgotten a computer password, put the recycling in the wrong bin, or hunted for my specs — having lost them for the third time in as many hours — only to discover that I’m wearing them (‘have you checked on your nose, Dad?’).
Once in a while, even in these grim times, there comes a snippet of news to lift the most downtrodden heart. Such a morsel of cheer lifted mine this week, with the evidence in yesterday’s paper that young people have no business to sneer at us old folk when we suffer the occasional senior moment [File photo]
But now, researchers at Edinburgh University have found that men and women in their 20s regularly forget everything, from where they left their keys to the reason they entered a room.
Memory lapses, says the neuropsychiatrist Laura McWhirter, who conducted the study, are as common in twentysomethings as they are among those 30 years older.
Ha! Haven’t I always said so?
I wish I had a fiver for every time over the past decade or so, before three of our four left home, when I was woken at some ungodly hour by the chiming of the doorbell to find a sheepish son on the doorstep, after a night out on the tiles.
‘Sorry, Dad. I forgot my keys.’
What if Mrs U and I had forgotten ours as often as they did theirs? We’d have been permanently locked out of the house.
I’d be a rich man indeed if I had another few quid for every time I came down to the kitchen in the morning to find my phone charger missing from its usual socket by the kettle.
‘Sorry, Dad, I borrowed it. I seem to have lost mine.’
I wish I had a fiver for every time over the past decade or so, before three of our four left home, when I was woken at some ungodly hour by the chiming of the doorbell to find a sheepish son on the doorstep, after a night out on the tiles
‘Well, could I have it back now?’
Ten minutes later: ‘Um, sorry Dad. I can’t seem to find it. I must have put it somewhere.’
Maybe in the same place where you put the last three pairs of headphones you lost, along with your bus pass, your football boots, the key to your bicycle padlock and my copy of the latest Private Eye.
As for my own generation’s supposed gaga incompetence with computer technology, well, I grant you that there may be something in that. But in my experience, even the oh-so-self- assured young make the odd elementary mistake.
I’ll never forget when our eldest was at Edinburgh University and our second son volunteered nobly to take our youngest up there to visit him. (Sorry to bring this up again, my boy — but if I’d done what you did, I would never have heard the end of it either.)
Don’t worry, he said. He’d find cheap flights for the two of them on the internet. Leave it all to him. All I had to do was lend him my debit card and foot the bill.
Come the eve of their departure, it finally occurred to him that he hadn’t received confirmation of his booking. But instead of checking his junk folder — as, dare I say it, a sensible older person might — he booked again.
It was only when I drove the two boys to Heathrow Airport to see them off that we discovered he’d booked — and I’d paid for — four return tickets, instead of two.
Now, if I’d done something like that, I’d have been mocked as a senile fool who should never have been allowed anywhere near a computer.
As for his younger brothers, they were forever coming back from school having left their homework in the classroom or wearing other teenagers’ blazers, which they’d put on by mistake.
So how refreshing it is to receive scientific confirmation that it’s not just my boys who suffer the odd mental lapse. A great many others of their generation, it appears, are also prone to what, perhaps, we should call junior senior moments.
True, the Edinburgh research is not the most comprehensive study ever undertaken. Indeed, Dr McWhirter interviewed only 124 healthy adults, aged between 18 and 59.
But it is surely significant that, of these, a mere 13 per cent rated their own memories as ‘excellent’ — while half said they had difficulty, at least once a week, in finding the right word to express what they wanted to say.
Meanwhile, 40 per cent of the volunteers, who had an average age of 27, admitted that they mislaid their phones at least weekly, while half said they had forgotten just as often why they entered a room.
So we oldies are not the only ones who seem to spend much of our lives trudging upstairs to retrieve something from the bedroom, only to trudge down again, empty-handed, having completely forgotten the purpose of our mission.
We are far from alone, too, in fretting that we may be losing our marbles.
Of the Edinburgh study’s interviewees, no fewer than 56 per cent said they were frightened of developing dementia, according to the report in the journal CNS Spectrums.
But Dr McWhirter’s conclusion offers at least a crumb of comfort. ‘People think if you are starting to forget things — something like misplacing your keys — that it is something to worry about,’ she says. ‘But it is normal.’
I just wish I could be so sure. But I fear there is no escaping the fact, in my own case at least, that memory lapses become more and more frequent as the years roll by.
So how refreshing it is to receive scientific confirmation that it’s not just my boys who suffer the odd mental lapse. A great many others of their generation, it appears, are also prone to what, perhaps, we should call junior senior moments [File photo]
When I was starting out in this trade 45 years ago, as I may have boasted before, I could name every member of the Cabinet, as well as all junior ministers and the party affiliations and constituencies of most MPs in the House.
These days, I have to rack my brain to recall the name of the Foreign Secretary — let alone that of the leader of the Liberal Democrats or the Greens.
I was going to add that, recently, I’ve become less and less sure of the date or even what day of the week it happens to be. But since every day of this accursed lockdown is identical to the last, I suspect that a sizeable proportion of the population suffers the same difficulty.
As for putting names to faces, that was never my strong suit. But after a year in which I’ve seen hardly any friends in the flesh, I’m worse at it than ever.
‘Who’s that?’ I asked Mrs U the other day, when a pundit appeared on the telly in a Zoom interview from his home. ‘Doesn’t he look a bit familiar?’
‘That’s hardly surprising, darling, since you shared an office with him for ten years!’
Well, I blame his lockdown beard.
But I fear that even Dr McWhirter might have trouble convincing me that my ever more frequent senior moments such as this are altogether normal in an otherwise healthy 67-year-old.
Ah, well, perhaps the decay in my memory cells may yet turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
For on one thing, young and old can surely agree: these have been 12 grim months that almost every one of us would rather forget.
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