Assumptions & memory: elders are sharper than we think

I’m intrigued by how much more capable the elderly are than we’ve been led to believe. Since only the luckiest and most sensible of us will even survive to be old, that makes a certain amount of sense.

CRPS, which typically attacks people in their “most productive” years (implicit assumption alert!), has shown us that many medications useful in CRPS, which have been given to the elderly like candy for decades (calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, benzodiazepines) have a serious effect on memory and cognition — which was documented only because we don’t expect 38-year-olds to suddenly lose their ability to track simple tasks.

But the elderly get no slack. If your whip-sharp grandad suddenly can’t remember your kid’s Little League scores, who’s willing to relate it to the meds he just started for his heart?

And who cares enough about grandpa’s brain to go to bat for him, and insist that the doc find another way to handle things? Hint: what you eat & what you do, do matter. Visits with nutritional consultants and PTs can be prescribed.

Back to this study:

These wonderfully sensible scientists framed an exact goal: they “set out to investigate how implicitly held negative stereotypes about aging could influence memory performance in older adults.”

They specified “implicit” stereotypes, in other words, ones we’re not aware that we’re responding to. (The kind that patients and doctors hold about each other all the time.)

When the tests were run with the stereotypes laid in, the older people did worse on the memory tests. When the stereotypes were made irrelevant to the outcome, the elders did as well as the youngsters. On the same type of test.

Which should tell you just how pernicious and evil those assumptions we make about old people are. When grandma’s memory starts playing up, ask her if she has started any medicine recently. Find out what it was for and how else that can be addressed. Ask if it’s the smallest possible dose that’s prescribed.

Give up the idea that pills solve problems freely, and recognize that each one imposes a tax on the body and brain.

If grandpa doesn’t mind losing his mind but won’t give up his risotto and vichyssoise, maybe the pills are fine, but if he simply assumes the doctor is offering the best deal without showing him alternatives, maybe it’s time to talk about alternatives.

Because doctors default to doing what’s easy and predictable — just like the rest of us! That’s not always what’s best for a mentally or physically active person. They seem to deal with a lot of lazy idiots, and if you or your elders are neither, it takes a lot of effort to bust them out of their groove and get them to think things through.

Try taking it seriously, because nobody should be forced to lose their mind before they lose their pulse.