Caring Currents

Middle-Age, um, Moment

Last updated:

December 29, 2008
Tokyo abstract

At a recent holiday party, I was chatting with some friends about movies, and the conversation went something like this:

"You know who I mean, she played the mother in the recent version of -- what was the name of that movie?"

 "She has blondish hair, right? And she used to be married to Kenneth somebody -- the guy who does all the Shakespeare movies? I can't remember his name, either."

 "-- based on a book by Evelyn Waugh, I think. Or was it Henry James?"

 "Emily something, I think. I know it'll come to me in the middle of the night!"

If you're middle-aged, this interchange is likely to sound familiar: Most of us find ourselves fumbling for the names of books, political figures, even old friends that suddenly aren't there when we try to retrieve them. It's also common to walk with great purpose from one part of the house to another -- and completely forget what we came looking for. More critically, we may find that we draw a complete blank on important details, as's Kate Rauch described in her recent post.

When I have these lapses, I try to reassure myself that, as a member of the sandwich generation, I'm simply overwhelmed by all the details I have to keep track of: kids, work, household, parents, family, friends -- the list goes on. But expert David Solie says there is another dynamic at work as well.

In a recent blog post, Solie offers the sobering news that in middle age, the brain experiences a decrease in "executive function." Executive function enables us to keep track of multiple tasks at the same time, among other things. And as the brain ages, we also have more difficulty filtering out distractions and focusing on the task at hand, while information retrieval time slows down as well.

I interviewed David Solie to find out a little more about how the changes in the middle aged brain affect caregiving. "The brain changes at a very inconvenient time for most caregivers," Solie points out.  Caregiving requires the ability to multitask and to focus, but thanks to changes in the middle age brain, these skills are on the wane just when we need them most.

The result? Normal changes in the middle-aged brain may add significantly to the difficulty and stress of caregiving.

In his blog, Solie offers some advice on ways to maximize caregiving efficiency and minimize stress -- middle-aged brain and all. He's also writing a book on middle age: Riptide: Navigating the Volatile Journey From 40-Something to 60-Something, which should be published at the end of next year. 

And remember, the next time you forget the name of your favorite author or leave the water running in the sink, you're not having a senior moment -- you're having a middle-age moment.

Now…where did I leave my car keys?

Image by Flickr user 


used under the Creative Commons attribution license.