Senior moments. We joke about them:

My memory is getting so bad, I’m the only one I know who can plan a surprise party for herself!

We deny them:

I was just momentarily distracted.

We overreact:

This is it! I’m done for! I must have Alzheimer’s!

Yes, senior moments can be frustrating. I’m sometimes fearful that if I accept a speaking engagement lights out will happen in the middle of a thought.

What do we do when we realize we are lost and have that deer-in-the-headlights look about us? I find myself confessing, “I’ve had a senior moment … what was I just saying?”

I feel awful, but the audience seems to understand, even heave a collective sigh.

I explain it as the filter we once used to sort through all the details stored in our brain’s mental filing cabinets broke. Either the memories totally elude us, or they come spilling out like clutter from Fibber McGee’s closet.

A National Science Foundation-funded study found that older participants wandered into a brief “mental time travel” when trying to recall details. This journey veered them into a cluttered space filled with both relevant and irrelevant information.

We elders struggle to remember important details because our brains can’t resist the irrelevant “stuff” we soak up subconsciously. This clutter leads to a lack of confidence about our memories, even when our recollections are correct.

This could be a reason why seniors are often vulnerable to scams when a con tries to trick them about prior conversations that never took place.

Another study tells us that noticing we are having a “senior moment” may be a positive sign that our brain is not yet that senior. The time to worry, a researcher noted, is when we stop noticing them: “… unawareness of one’s memory problems is an inevitable feature of late-life dementia.”

This underscores the importance of doctors looking for help from friends and family when diagnosing possible dementia in a patient who may not be able to accurately report the history of their own thinking and recall abilities.

New research from University of Notre Dame says that the act of passing through a “doorway” causes memory lapses: “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

So, we may be wrapping a package in the dining room and then walk to our office only to ask, “What did I come in here for?” We have trouble remembering it was scissors because our decision to get them is shut off back in the dining room.

One researcher referred to memory loss as “… our generation’s boogeyman. The scary monster in the closet for those of us who have seen dementia and Alzheimer’s up close as it diminishes our parents and elderly loved ones.”

So I asked a neurologist, “Am I having my first attack? Do I have dementia?”

He told me, “Go home and forget about it!”

Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at The opinions expressed are her own.