Forgetting a word doesn´t make you senile

Forgetting a word doesn´t make you senile

Past fifty, when we forget a word, we fear Alzheimer´s is knocking at our neurons’ door. At a certain age, forgetting words and names makes us jittery and we think senility is setting in.

Alzheimer’s and senility are dreaded more than cancer, and not a day goes by that we hear about someone we know, or knew, who is suffering from this dreadful disease that turns people into vegetables before killing them.

Those of us past fifty get goose bumps when we are unable to recall a name, a given word, and a cold sweat covers our foreheads and hands when the word we need at a precise moment, escapes us. Is the horrible illness creeping up on us finally?

The other day, and for unimportant reasons, I was trying to remember an English word I had read years ago in Kafka’s The Trial, in the opening words: “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K…” and I knew I had read a translation with a word, a precise word for “telling lies.” From downtown to my home –a twenty-minute bus ride- I squeezed my brain to no purpose, in vain. Once home I looked it up; the word I could not recall was “traduce”: “Someone must have traduced Joseph K…” My hands were clammy, and I felt anxiety overcoming me. Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end?

To make things worse, I was asked how to say salpicadero in English… and I could not remember. A few minutes later “dashboard” jumped in my brain, making faces, thumbing its nose at me, and laughing.

We all fear forgetfulness. Cemeteries are dotted with tombstone inscriptions promising not to forget the departed one. We all want to be remembered; we do not want to be forgotten. Memory is part of our lives. We are memory.

Also read: Keeping the over-50 brain nimble and sharp

Forgetting a word doesn´t make you senile

In the Odyssey IX, Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions arrive at the land of the λωτοφάγοι, lotophagoi, the lotus-eaters, who partook of the fruit of the Lotus Tree, delicate and sweet, which was narcotic and produced sleep and forgetfulness. They lived in happy apathy.

We do not want that type of happiness and deem it a curse and that is why we dread senility and Alzheimer’s. Yet, we do, we do forget.

We cannot live in constant fear. There is no need to because when the enemy attacks, if it ever does, we will know. My mother, 100 and pushing 101, has an excellent memory and no traces of forgetfulness, thank God.

Forgetting words is a normal brain process during our lives. We used to forget names and dates in exams. We often went blank when the teacher asked us a simple question.

Those who write know it well. They often have to pause in order to recall that special right word that suddenly eludes them.

We have been going through this forgetting process all the time and we thought it was normal and did not worry over it. Now, past fifty, the thought of forgetting things, words, names, chores, dates, appointments… terrifies us.

Our brain is not like a computer’s hard disk, so do not despair and think the worst if you forget a word here and there. No problem. You have been doing that all your life.

Do try to keep Alzheimer’s at bay by using your brain, and learning constantly. Learn a new language.

Oh, yes, do not ever eat the fruit of the Lotus tree, tasty and sweet, even if Cupid offers it to you.

Delfín Carbonell Basset

Delfín Carbonell is a graduate of Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. in Philology from Madrid and has authored 35 books in both English and Spanish, published by McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Larousse, Anaya and Serbal. He has taught at Pitt, F&M, Scranton and Murray St. University.