Social interaction in person forgiving, aging and forgetting
Wayne Clark PhD and Woodrow Clark PhD
As the pandemic in the US is winding down and in person social interaction is resurfacing from the isolation, sheltering, and social distancing of the past year, I thought some wisdom from a native American leader might be beneficial. I bring her up because she passed away recently. We lost a dear friend in our life, a true champion and role model. During the many tributes to her, there was one theme that resounded, she was a very forgiving person. Whether it was family members that at one time or another let her down or colleagues at work, she could forgive and she did. She looked on the brighter side of life and humanness. She realized that we all make mistakes, we all have problems, we all can do better, we all need a second chance. Yes, life has its consequences, people need to be accountable, and we will suffer from those consequences, but the ability to forgive allows us and those around us to be resilient and to thrive.
This lesson is paramount in our post pandemic world, some of us have not stayed connected with family and friends, some have neglected responsibilities, some have hidden underneath the excuse of the pandemic. Well, it is time to come out for some air and re-engage with others. A crucial tool will be the ability and willingness to forgive and forget. Break the ice, open a conversation, reach out, be there now when you could not or would not over the past year.
We will need to forgive and be forgiven, this ability will open the doors for clearing the air, settling grievances, uncovering misgivings, and reestablishing what was there before we were interrupted by the worst plague in over a century.
Forgetting when not forgiving
Most often forgiving and forgetting go hand in hand. We are advised to forgive and forget, let the forgiveness overwhelm whatever is the negative memory from our mind. Yet for baby boomers, forgetting takes on a whole new at first mundane perspective, where did I leave my keys, why did I come in this room, or did I lock the front door or close the garage door when I left the house. Our memories are not working the way they used to. As previous generations aged, we saw examples of their absent mindedness, leaving the pot boiling on the stove, Grampa not zipping up his pants, uncle Joe being stubborn, gramma conveniently not hearing, or not remembering a friend’s name. These idiosyncrasies were either overlooked, excused, or just labeled by names such as “the absent-minded professor,” “grumpy old man,” or the “old lady is a bit eccentric; she just isn’t what she used to be.” Staying sharp-as-a-tack is not for all of us, for some we are showing signs of early dementia for others we are just showing signs of aging, our skin has more wrinkles, our muscles less strong, our bones more brittle, and the brain too is showing the wear of our many years on the planet.
A great description of the aging brain can be found in a paper entitled “Memory, forgetfulness and aging, what’s normal and what’s not.” This paper is based on scientific studies from the National Institute of Health, Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov/what’s normal and what’s not). It is a very helpful treatment that clearly separates the kinds of cognitive impairment during aging as well as identify early signs and symptoms of the more severe brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that for most baby boomer’s forgetfulness is normal in the aging process, while there are other signs or indicators of more serious symptoms, such as not knowing where you are, who the people are that you are with or what time of day or year or month it is. Also, there are problematic behavioral health symptoms exhibited such as increase in being argumentative or physically striking out, and other personality changes. The challenge is to learn what are the early signs, get a professional opinion about the extent of your own or your loved one’s difficulties, see if there are exercises and learning tools that can help sharpen memory skills. Unfortunately, there are no cures yet for Alzheimer’s and many forms off dementia. However, for most of us there is hope, first recognize whether we are having problems, talk with family and experts about it, and take recommended corrective actions.
Denying there is a problem and disguising or faking are also common social interactions that emerge by both the person with the condition and the family dealing with that person. No one likes to see a loved one seemingly “lose their mind”, nor admit that this is happening. Some of those exhibiting early, or late symptoms will develop mechanism to hide their condition, not calling people by their names “hey buddy how ya doing”, staying quiet so not to say anything embarrassing in a group; or “he has always been like that, you know getting lost, not remembering names.” The friends and family often will not want to admit that there is a problem and remain in denial until it is either too late or they cannot ignore the condition anymore.
Many of us have had conversations about aging and whether we would rather lose our physical abilities to stay resilient or our mental capacity to thrive. Most of us will not have to choose, we will lose a little bit of both, or it will happen decisively with our bodies or our minds. Either way we should remember the brain is like any other part of our body, it does not always perform like it used to. A professor once said that the brain is like a muscle, it needs to be exercised. Staying sharp as a tack does require some exercise, healthy body and healthy mind go hand in hand. If you are having trouble and want to learn more, please go to the NIH website and identify where you are in the healthy brain continuum.
See nia.nih.gov/what’s normal and what’s not