18 November 2006

Does Forgetfulness Come With Age?

I start this week's post with a joke quoted from today's New Paper. The joke was entitled Three Sisters:

Three sisters, aged 92, 94, and 96, live in a house together.

One night, the 96-year-old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells down the stairs: "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"

The 94-year-old yells back: "I don't know. I'll come up and see." She starts up the stairs and pauses. Then she yells: "Was I going up the stairs or down?"

The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea, listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says: "I sure hope I never get that forgetful." She knocks on wood for good measure.

She then yells: "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."

To me, the above joke is so relevant that it seems to be on me. You see, although I'm a long way from 90, this morning I forgetfully left my keychain at a food court which I visit almost every Saturday. I was walking back to my car when I realised that my keychain was missing and that really freaked me out. I wasn't afraid that someone would break into my home but rather, replacing my car's keycard (which unlocks car as well as starts the engine) costs more than $400! And it had to be specially ordered from France. Meanwhile, if you lose the only other spare keycard too, you'd better get used to using public transport for the next two months because it takes that long for the replacement keycard to arrive. Fortunately, one of the staff at the food court had kept my keychain safely. I thanked her profusely when she returned the keychain to me.

Like a 90-year-old, the wife yelled: "This is the second time that you lose your keychain in past week. Next time always remember to check first before you leave a place, okay?"

Ridden with utmost guilt and remorse like he just murdered someone, the husband could only think quietly to himself: "Yes, I remember losing my keychain last week but thankfully for my poor memory, I've already forgotten about that unhappy
incident until you reminded me now. And I totally agree that if I always check first before I leave a place, such an incident could be avoided. Obviously, I also forgot to check, right?"

(Note: The preceding 2 paragraphs are NOT a continuation of the joke quoted from the New Paper.)

If I go back further in time and remember correctly, there were also a few occasions when I left my keychain hanging from the keyhole of my flat's front door after unlocking it. On one or two occasions, this careless act was discovered by me and hence I was spared a woman's fury. However, at other times, I was not so lucky. There was even one occasion when I had left the key dangling from the letter box at the void deck at my block - it was like sending an open invitation to a burglar to pay a courtesy call to my flat. Luckily, a good neighbour found the keychain and returned it promptly to me. Once, I dropped my keychain in Chris' car while lunching out with him and had to trouble my wife to come to my office after work so that I could drive the car home with the spare keycard.

Then recently, I nearly missed a turn on the expressway while sending my younger son for tuition class. The expected yells followed. (Funny, I don't remember ever marrying this woman.)

Could it really be that I am getting forgetful because I am getting old? Does age inevitably comes with forgetfulness and weak ankles? My mind refuses to believe that. For proof, just look at people like MM Lee and our President. They are well past their 80s and yet their minds are easily many times sharper than mine. Of course, I know that I am making an unfair (to me) comparison here. Yet, we cannot deny the fact that countless of our brain cells are dying every minute and our bodies are getting physically weaker as we age. Eventually, all of us cannot escape death when our bodily functions fail us permanently, whether from old age or from illness. As they say, the mind may be willing but the body is weak.

A recent research concluded that forgetfulness was due to stress. Chris will vouch that I appear to be one of the least stressed persons in the office. But as another colleague MGC said, I could be like a duck swimming in a pond - looking very calm above the surface but paddling frantically below the waterline. Perhaps I am getting stressed up due to all that yelling at home.

The mind works in mysterious ways - while there are some things which we want to remember but find it hard to do so, there are other things which we want to forget but find it just as hard. Some of us find great difficulty in remembering the 3 F's - facts, figures and formulas - especially when we are studying for exams. However, we have no problem remembering pleasant experiences. For example, I could remember very clearly my personal experiences that happened during my honeymoon in New Zealand more than 17 years ago. I could recall events that occurred in the day time as well as in the night but I shall not go into details here (as there are young people reading my blog). One thing I remember very distinctly is that there was no woman yelling at me at that time. But then again, I don't think that I was so forgetful then that I deserved a yelling or two.

At the other end of the scale, people also find it very hard to forget unpleasant incidents. For instance, it is never easy when we suddenly lose someone close to us, regardless of whether he/she is a loved one or "a loved once". (Those of you who did not marry your first boyfriend/girlfriend will know what I mean.) Let me illustrate with a real life example by citing another article from the same day's New Paper:

A woman died in hospital in July last year after developing a skin disease as a result of a drug allergy. The state coroner had ruled out any criminal negligence on the part of any medical staff who treated her. Yet the woman's father found it very hard to accept that nobody was found responsible for his daughter's sudden demise. He even stripped himself in protest at the College of Medicine building recently in a bid to get the Health Ministry to reopen the case. Counsellors and psychiatrists advised that in this case, the father needed to go through the mourning process, however long. He should try to get over his grief by not constantly dwelling on the past. Of course, that is easier said than done but the father must try to forget the past, not her daughter.

One good thing - despite my forgetfulness lately, I think that I still remember to update my blog at least once a week. (I just checked and found that this is indeed true.) Maybe I am suffering from selective amnesia. Whatever the case, if one day you find that I fail to update my blog for 2 weeks or more, it could be that one or more of the following things happened:

1. I am really busy (with my other "obsessions");

2. Someone has been yelling at me not to spend so much time on the computer;

3. I actually forgot (unlikely but can happen); and/or

4. Something worse has happened (don't know whether likely or not, but can't be ruled out either).

In any case, for all of the above scenarios, Chris will surely update you via his blog or via a comment on my blog. (He usually pens a poem about spider webs and the like.) Provided that he too didn't forget to do so.


me said...

i like this entry so much; i read each and every word of it! but the funny thing is.. you can still remember the things you forgot ma... i dont even remember them!

i dont think it has anything to do with age, because my dad is better with his brain than me. heh.. he remember what i say when i cant even remember where i left my things. he always tell me to eat more fish, for he says that fish makes one memory better. but i refuse to believe it.

recently, my memory is getting really bad. & i guess its because i concentrate too much at work (stressed, like you say about yourself) and remember everything at work, but once i am home, i forget everything.

just this morning i forgot where i left my handphone and was totally horrified, thinking that i could have lost all my contacts etc. i was at the point of breaking down when my colleague told me that she has actually safekeep it while we were going for lunch. i get really forgetful sometimes...

anyway, if i never hear from you for more than 2 weeks,

1) i will sms you.

2) i will bug uncle chris for your whereabouts.

3) i will post n post n post in your comments box until you reply.

disclaimer: provided i remember what ive said. haha =P

Anonymous said...

Victor, is this post inspired by the movie on channel 5 last nite. If you have forgotten, it was titled Momento - about this guy who has lost his short term memory. Anything longer than 10 minutes he will forget. Anyway my verdict of the movie - forgettable.

I believe forgetfulness is stress-related. Kids nowadays are definitely more forgetful compared to our generation. Probably becos they are bombarded with so much info.

My daughter is good example. Last week she was attached to the Japanese Sec Sch in West Coast Road. At the end of the 1-week stint, she left her shoes there and I had to make a trip back just to pick them up. And she is only 14.

I once heard a health talk on radio. The expert said that old people tend to be forgetful becos a great deal of their tasks have become routine and carried out instinctively. That's why they forget. Such forgetfullness is not to be confused with senility or dementia where you won't even know that you have forgotten something.

Anonymous said...

I think another reason is because your mind is preoccupied with something. Probably you were thinking of somthing so you were not conscious about your keys.

Anonymous said...

To add another "feather to your cap", Victor, have you forgotten you almost left your key pouch on the counter of the customer service gal at Samsung? She had to call out to you. Come on, 'fess up, you have your eyes on the other sweet and cute service gal on the next counter, right? The one you're trying to chat up. The way I look at it, age has NOTHING to do with forgetfulness. I agreed with FR. In your case, there are simply too many distractions... LOL.

As for the yelling wife, one would have tot that after all these years, you would have gotten used to it (the yelling, not the wife). You meant you haven't? I had. Anyway, soon, the yelling won't make a difference as old people are quite hard on hearing one. If all else fail, get an Ipod. Be hip, be cool and be young at heart. And be oblivious to the world around you. Hee.

Anonymous said...

Oh... I forgot to add. It's been proven that Mahjong helps in keeping the brain active. According to scientists, we're only using about 20% (?) of the total capacity of our brain. So, maybe can get 4 "kakis" to play major lor. Chun See, Frannxis, myself and you lah.... if you want to "ketut" younger people, get Elaine or Evan lor...hahahah..

Victor said...

Elaine - Go ahead and laugh at 干爹 making a fool of himself. I got more to tell you, if I got time to blog in the coming weeks. It should be that way - when you get home from work, you should forget everything that happened at work. Never "bring your work home". Conversely, never bring your personal problems to the office.

Chun See - No, this post was not inspired by the movie "Momento". Not that I forgot about the movie, neither am I suffering from dementia. I normally don't watch English movies on Ch 5. I prefer news and documentaries. About your daughter's forgetfulness, erm... are you sure it is not something that's hereditary?

Frannxis - You're probably right. I think I must attach retractable cords to my keychain and wallet from now on, like some young kids and old men do.

Chris - I know I can always rely on friends like you to remind me of incidents that I would rather forget. (That's why I don't bother to remember them in the first place. That's yet another thing in common between you and my wife.) What makes you think that we can ketuk Elaine and Evan in the game of mahjong? Don't be presumptuous. Who knows, they may be more pro than you and I, okay?

Anonymous said...

Chun See - Your daughter cannot beat my two daughters. Look at this records. My first daughter left her bag, including passport in a tourist bus in Turkey, and the hotel staff had to chase after the bus in a bike to retrieve it. The second one is even worse - when in Pr.sch. left the whole sch.bag in school came home empty-handed, making my wife hitting the roof. Once she lost her passport in US after graduation, luckily the efficient S'pore US embassy prepared a new one so that all of us can fly back in time. She lost another pass-port this time in Europe, and nearly another one in Thailand if not for the alertness of my sister-in-law. Very terrifying, does this trait runs in the Lam family ? A footnote: the US passport was later recovered in her friend's car.

Anonymous said...

My Short term memory is really bad. Time again after locking my car, I still need to go and double check if I have really locked it. But talking about 30 overs ago, those memories are still fresh . Could it be becasue those are precious momories that we would not let it go away?

Anonymous said...

Chuck - I asked my doctor the same question, and told me that people can remember things that happened long ago rather than the short term ones. I am also your type but I would like to promote Chun See's specialty course 5S. Some of the basic principles can help us to manage ourselves better in relation to forgetfullness.

Victor said...

Chun Chew - Am I seeing sibling rivalry at work here? Do you have to claim that Chun See's daughter cannot beat your two daughters even in the dubious honour of being forgetful? :) But I must agree that losing a passport in a foreign land is one of the worst things that can happen to a traveller. It's like suddenly losing your identity in a strange land. Hmm... looks like the Lam family might indeed have this family trait. :p

Chuck - Be careful. There is such a thing called "obsessive-compulsive disorder" (OCD)if "time again after locking your car, you still need to go and double check if you have really locked it". This obsession has nothing to do with sex hor, hehe. Ask your doctor about it or click on this link for more information.

Anonymous said...

Victor - It is like washing 'family' dirty linen in public, but what to do we need to support each other blogs to make them colourful, hence the sacrifice. Anyway, it is not that harmful to be truthful. I always believe that if we cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. As for forgetfulness as a family trait, wait still you hear my sister Pat side of the story, provided wants to share. It is a shocker - the Orchard Road Saga.

Victor said...

"Support each other blogs"? So Chun Chew, you do have a blog, don't you? Share it with us leh. At the same time, please ask Pat to share the Orchard Road Saga as well. My curiosity is killing me.

Anonymous said...

My blog ? It must be a joke. I am going to Chun See's coming talk for Snr citizens on blogging. In term of computer knowledge, Chun See has to teach me as though am a small kid. In the world of computer technology, I am like the old lady 'liu lao lao' (Dream of the Red Chamber)entering Ta Kuan Yuan. After having said all, I really wish Chun See, Chris, and your blogs to do well, making an impact on the local blogging scene - cheers (Yam Seng!) As for Pat's Orchard Road Saga, I and Chun See shall persuade her to contribute, when we met for lunch this coming Friday, not forgetting that she is equally fearful of the computer.

Anonymous said...

Victor - Thanks for the link. I will try to improve on that condition of mine. One way is to go for more brisk walk with my buddy Chun See.

Anonymous said...

Ermmm.. Chun Chew (still prefer Zen)... I'm not quite in the league of Chun See and Victor leh. I'm really much much younger with very little things of the 60s or 70s to share. And how do you define doing "well" in a blog? By the 1-minute kinda fame in the national papers? By the number of comments per post? By the number of hits? Gee... I juz wanna be left alone and write my stuff... anything under the sun :)) And you make Blogging sounds like taking the imperial exam you know. No wonder so many older folks so scared of computer and blogging. Sigh.

I look forward to reading your blog, Zen. Way to go!!!


Anonymous said...

Interesting issues raised here by Victor and Chris.

"Doing well" - how does one measure that in a blog. I think I certainly would like to dwell in greater depth on this .. after my talk to the seniors this Sat. Suffice to say that the fact that they deemed fit to invite me for the talk is a reflection that I am achieving my goal to get more older Sporeans to share their 'kampong stories'.

"Support" - I have been persuading my brother Chun Chew to contribute some articles to my blog. He is older and has a better memory than me. But he has repeatedly declined saying he prefers to play a 'supporting role' i.e. by contributing snippets and sharing his stories in the comments section of my blog. I am OK with that.

Anonymous said...

Chris - You need not be modest for being young which is seen by many an asset in modern Singapore, on the contrary many view old fellows (like myself) as items for the museum. I always remember Chun See who likens blogging to a coffee shop, where any Ah Seng, Ali or Asoka can participate in gossips or talking Confucius, but certainly not like going to take an imperial exam and become a 'Chuang Yuan' - three cheers for blogging -hip hip....

Anonymous said...

Orchard Rd Saga - Victor, curiosity kills a cat. Pls note, Zen is ardent follower of the Lee Dai Sor technique. He will give you a bit of appetizer and then make you wait eagerly for the next episode.

Anonymous said...

Lee Dai Sor: "Twin-peated heroine Lee Shui met the evil See Wan Cheng who could float on top of grass and travel shiftly like wind.....and if you want to know what happen, please tune in tomorrow night"

Victor said...

I have patiently waited. "Tomorrow night" came and went, Zen. Where's the 2nd episode? Don't tell me "Lee Dai Sor" rests on weekends hor. The Lee Dai Sor I knew broadcast more often on weekends but is now forever resting, not just on weekends.

Anonymous said...

I thought topic is forgetfulness. How come talk abt LDS..

Once in a while LDS got urgent matters to attend to and could not make it that day, so they would broadcast a song.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they forgot the topic.

Anonymous said...

Victor, Zen's waiting for the lunch date then tell mah. Cham leow lah, must extend lunch time again. Hope I won't be bored to sleep. I was too young to really care about LDS leh. LOL

Anonymous said...

Forgetfulness comes with the territory of modern life being especially hectic, harried and hurried. We multi-task so much that sometimes, we forget the things that we are supposed to do, want to do and even need to do.

I read before somewhere about the various balls that we are juggling, and how some of them may be more fragile than others. Just remember not to forget your other half's birthday or your wedding anniversary. Hell hath no fury like a woman forgotten!

Anonymous said...

After telling everyone of the Lam's family trait - short-term forgetfullness, I need to counter-balance this weakness. Therefore I deliberately reproduce an extract of Lee Dai Soh's story, some 50 years ago, to prove that my siblings and I still possess long-term memory which is a force to be reckoned with (sound boastful).

Victor said...

Lee Dai Sor: "Twin-peated heroine Lee Shui met the evil See Wan Cheng who could float on top of grass and travel shiftly like wind.....and if you want to know what happen, please tune in tomorrow night"

So the above quote is really 50 years old? Wow.

How come you didn't turn up for the lunch meeting at Gillman yesterday, Zen? Was looking forward to meet Chuck and you.(Chun See said that both of you were shy.) It is no use having a good memory but shy to meet people, you know?

Anonymous said...

Victor: It is not a matter of being shy. There is a saying which explains: "No labour input, no monetary reward" So I cannot make your bonus shrinks in size, lest you family may blame me. Also it is not nice to be a gate-crasher.

Victor said...


Chris and I would gladly have let you paid for you own lunch. (You could also pay for us, if you don't mind - we certainly won't mind that.)

Aiyah got so many inhibitions - looks like ex-civil servants are even more kiasu than existing ones.

Anonymous said...

No, the problem lies not in many inhibitions, or ex-civil servant for that matter. When we civil servants (including Chuck an ex immigration officer) left the service, we are like old airplane jettisoning all unwanted baggages, becoming free and easy. In fact I was eager to meet you and Chris during the QT talk but was distracted by David(from Australia), Pat, her husband, and friends turning up to support Chun See (busily attending other matters). Apologise for disappointing you and Chris and the kind gesture offered, but one thing that puzzles me - how could an old low-profile and obscure fellow suddenly feel wanted? (not boasting) Well, there is always another time. After all we are living in a small island not like Australia.

Victor said...

Chris didn't attend the QT talk. Honestly, if I may add, Chris was initially hesitant about meeting Chun See too. (He always claims that he is so young so there surely would be a generation gap. He's actually only 8 years younger than me or exactly 1 zodiac cycle behind Chun See.)

The blogosphere has enabled us to know people even before meeting them face to face. I guess Chris must have grown fonder of Chun See and you through our blogs. That's the power of the digital age.

Anonymous said...

Victor - You are very right to point out such basic human behavior. There is a very encouraging Cantonese saying - 'First time uneasy, second time very familiar', but not too ofen, because familiarity breeds contempt (English saying). I hope this English version does not apply to you and Chris.