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Over 50? Peridementia and our aging knowledge workers - Life After 50 or No Longer Useful, Desired or Seen

About Over 50? Peridementia and our aging knowledge workers

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{After writing the post [The Fear Engendered By Dementia] I Googled 'fear of dementia'dementiasupport and found this. It is both illuminating and sobering. Comments welcomed!

From: f/k/a . . .
June 16, 2005

David Giacalone @ 11:56 pm

Do you suffer from “peri-dementia“? Would you want to hire a lawyer or 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 (notcaused 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 joke 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.

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 BusinessJournal in Canada (”Aging boomers will have to work longer,” Oct. 7, 2003) and Australia’s News.com (”Babyboomers missout on retirement, June 6, 2005). AARP has special program to help the over-50 crowd find jobs and companies hire them.

And, the columnist John Tierney thinks the government shouldbe setting policy to ensure that workers retire later (NYT, “TheOld 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?”

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?

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?

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 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome than with being 55, or because the complaints of my friends and associates are just typical Boomer self-absorption and exaggeration.

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, you should find some excellent tips at Making Our Minds Last a Lifetime (Psychology Today, by Katherine Greider, Dec. 1996), and Dementi 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.”

From: The peridementia and our aging knowledge workers by David Giacalone, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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Date:January 8th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC)

Within that dark wood

We baby boomers never go gently into anything, certainly not Dylan Thomas' "dark night," and not within Dante's dark wood either. We talk about it, dissect, worry it to death. You can look at the way we handled childbirth, raising children, menopause (female AND male) and now retirement and the fears of senility. I used to joke that we will be the ones doing wheelies in our wheelchairs in the nursing homes and I'm not too certain that's too far off. I wish that there were lots more people willing to talk about the fear of what age will bring, that this is a whole new part of our life script that seems like, if not Brave New World, then Strange New World to us.

I would not think, however, that we are leaving behind the Information World for the Concept one, as it is the very invention of the internet which we have mastered in some form or another that has allowed us to connect up with folks going through similar issues.

Glad to read your posting. Good luck in your own search from someone turning 60 next year,

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