doctor, or any knowledge worker, who did?
Similar to perimenopause, what I call peridementia is the period
before actual dementia occurs, in which the subject starts to have
a mild version of the loss of intellectual capacity that is associated
with dementia — i.e., impairment of attention, orientation, memory,
judgment, language, motor and spatial skills, and function (not
caused by major depression).
To be called dementia, the symptoms have to be severe enough to
“interfere with social or occupational functioning.” I’ve been wondering,
however, just when interference with job functioning becomes significant
enough that something needs to be said and done about it.
If my otherwise-healthy, middle class and professional, over-50 friends are
any indication, there’s a lot of peri-dementia going around. People who joked
a few years ago about their first batch of Senior Moments, aren’t joking any
more. We seem to be having “brainos” that are quite a bit more worrisome than
the increased numbers of typos found in our documents. They include episodes of
mild confusion and disorientation; skipping steps in necessary tasks; and memory
lapses considerably more important than the proverbial word on the tip of our tongues.
what did you forget?
I’ve been meaning to talk about this topic here at f/k/a for several months, but
I kept forgetting (rim shot!). A spate of news stories finally got me to buckle
down and do some thinking, linking and posting. Baby Boomers, and generations
to follow, are going to be working longer — some because they have to and some
because they want to do so.
- That’s what everyone is saying, from Merrill Lynch (in its
New Retirement Survey, Feb. 2005), the New York Times
(“In Overhaul of Social Security, Age Is the Elephant in the
Room, June 12, 2005) and USNews (“The Big Squeeze,”
June 13, 2005), here in the United States, to the Ottawa Business
Journal in Canada (“Aging boomers will have to work longer,”
Oct. 7, 2003) and Australia’s News.com (“Baby boomers miss
out on retirement, June 6, 2005). AARP has special programs
to help the over-50 crowd find jobs and companies hire them.
And, the columnist John Tierney thinks the government should
be setting policy to ensure that workers retire later (NYT, “The
Old and the Rested”, June 14, 2005)
NYT‘s John Tierney is correct that “If the elderly were willing to work longer,
there would be lower taxes on everyone and fewer struggling young families.
There would be more national wealth and tax revenue available to help the
needy.” (He, and NYT‘s Toner and Rosenbaum, are also correct that even
raising the issue of higher retirement ages amounts to political suicide — or,
at least, early political retirement.) Watching some remarkable amateur
athletes in their late 60s and early 70s, Tierney asks (emphasis added): “Is
it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full
day’s work at the office?” Living with and seeing peri-dementia a decade or
more before the “normal” retirement age, I ask “Who’s going to be mentally
capable of putting in a full or half day at the office in their 60s and 70s?”
the aging gourd
cast our shadows
When AARPers and union leaders resist the notion of indexing Social Security
to longevity, or otherwise postponing retirement further, they usually point to
people who do physically-demanding jobs. (They also ask just where all the
jobs are going to come from for the Baby Boomers who need or want to
continue working.) Profesors Becker and Posner recently asked about judges
and law professors who “Overstay Their Welcome.” Judge Poser noted that a
loss in mental capacity from aging “may reduce the value of [their] entire output to
zero,” but he focused on septuagenarians. I’m thinking that a noticeable reduction
in intellectual output — or a significant increase in errors — could very well occur
long before the traditional retirement age.
Since Merrill Lynch says that “76% of boomers intend to keep working and earning”
after retiring from their regular job, peridementia could become quite important. Consider
the Boomers who have no choice but to continue working due to financial imperatives.
What are their actual or potential employers, and co-workers, going to do about peri-
dementia? How should ethical requirements of competence affect the choices made
by lawyers and other professionals? Will age discrimination laws become a shield for those
who aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be? Does society want to offer such protection?
the dragonfly, too
I used to joke that Baby Boomers would always be able to get jobs, because
— unlike a lot of younger folk — we can alphabetize. However, a few sessions
shelving books by author at our Library’s Used Book Store has me a bit less
cocky on this score. I’ve been experiencing the same torpid shelving speed
(and fumbling around at the cash register) that I had associated with some of
the blue-haired-lady volunteers. This performance might be acceptable from
volunteers, but who’s going to pay for it? And, what about analogous, but more
crucial, malfunctioning by knowledge workers?
with the old pine
the two of us…
forgetting the year
I wish more webloggers, and our readers, were near or over 50, so I could
get some first-hand reactions to these questions. (Of course, anonymity might be
very important, if we were to open the floor to braino confessions.) Is the problem
far less significant that I’ve suggested — either because my personal episodes have
more to do with having CFS that with being 55, or because the complaints of my
friends and associates are just typical Boomer self-absorption and exaggeration.
the bees with children
Daniel Pink’s new book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age
to the Conceptual Age (2005), may offer some hope for Boomers whose brains are less
analytically sharp, but whose emotional intelligence is still increasing. Pink says we have
left the Information Age behind and entered a new Conceptual Age — where it will be right-
brain thinking, rather than left-brain skills, that will bring career success. We simply need to
develop the six senses that Pink calls Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.
Mark Williams, M.D., author of The American Geriatrics Society’s “Complete Guide to Aging
and Health,” says, “The fear of dementia is stronger than the fear of death itself.” I hope I haven’t
increased your anxiety with this posting. If you’d like to guard against or diminish peridementina,
by Katherine Greider, Dec. 1996), and Dementia Prevention: Brain Exercise. What’s the secret
to keeping our brains agile and fit? Greider says, “mental and physical challenges are both
strongly connected to cerebral fitness.” And, so is taking the time for leisure activity. As for
those occasional brainos, I’ve got you covered — at least for now.
p.s. To Lawyers Young and Old: The Greider article stresses that “A
sense of self-efficacy may protect our brain, buffeting it from the harmful
effects of stress.” According to the work of Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., of the
Harvard Medical School:
[T]here’s evidence that elevated levels of stress hormones
may harm brain cells and cause the hippocampus–a small
seahorse-shaped organ that’s a crucial moderator of memory–
to atrophy. A sense that we can effectively chart our own
course in the world may retard the release of stress hormones
and protect us as we age. “It’s not a matter of whether you
experience stress or not,” Albert concludes, “it’s your attitude
surprising the worker
in the field…
forgetting the name
of the pretty one —
the tip of my tongue
…….. [June 16, 2005]
afterthought: Don’t miss our magnum opus “The Graying Bar: Don’t Forget the Ethics” (March 20, 2007)