‘C ‘ is for confusion. If other people haven’t noticed this – and we try to keep it from them – we who are ageing most certainly have. Sometimes it’s just a matter of bad memory, which we’ll probably get to later, but often its just temporary mental fuzziness or a break in the continuity of thought. Where am I, we ask – even, sometimes, who am I? (A friend said to me the other day, When I look in the mirror these days I hardly recognise the face – I look more like my father than myself.) I recognise that experience. I had a struggle the other day trying to identify a fragment of memory that was nagging at me– was it a dream or had it been a real moment? (Later I was able to identify that it was real!). This can happen to anyone of any age, but as you get older when it happens you look for warning signs of mental deterioration and are in danger of finding them even when they aren’t there.
The dread of course is the fear that we are going senile or have the beginnings of dementia or even Altzeimer’s.
Usually however, it’s just that we are getting older with the past often more real than the present, and our ability to adapt to changing circumstances less than it used to be. There may be other reasons – a dietary deficiency perhaps, a badly prescribed medicine that doesn’t suit us, we have become over-dependent on alcohol, or we are not keeping ourselves warm enough – unsuspected hypothermia can creep up on us, or we may even be dehydrated. Most of all it could be that we are spending too much time alone.
If the confusion becomes a more or less permanent state of mind, then it’s time to seek medical help. It may be less serious than we fear and it could be that there is a nutritional disorder or infection that can be dealt with. If you are really worried about yourself, the kindness of family or friends assuring you that you are alright really, may be a hindrance to getting to the truth of how you are.
Better to consult with a dispassionate friend – or even someone going through the same experience. Twice a year I meet with a group of my old college friends, and we stagger into each other’s company still imagining the youngsters we once were but, replacing that onetime reality with the funny old boys we have become. And as we rummage in our memories for a name or an event, we watch each other, often reassured that others are ageing rather less successfully than we are! It happens, this slackening of grip on reality. In varying degrees it happens to all of us.
Perhaps the greatest antidote to confusion as we get older is to accept it, which I don’t find at all easy. O.K. – the process of living and thinking clearly is not as simple and straightforward as it once was, and we may have to devise strategies to deal with it.
But when all’s done, I guess we should try not to mind it too much!