Definitely a senior moment

I’m puttering about in the lab, waiting for students to show up, and was mainly just cleaning a lot of glassware. Then I had to make up some solutions and culture more flies, and then as reflex dictates, I had to label everything.

This is a rule. Every time you make a bottle of something, you slap a label on it that says what’s inside and the date you made it. If I didn’t, I’d probably have a seizure trying to get to the container, even if gorillas charged in and snatched me away. It really is that important.

So tape goes on, sharpie comes out, I start writing. “16 March…”, and then, brain freeze. I forgot the decade. “81”, my fingers itched to write. I was in grad school. This is when I got into this habit. It must be…

No, that’s ridiculous. It’s not the 20th century anymore, that’s over. “01”? Maybe?

20 fucking 21? NO WAY! That’s the distant future, I’m a young man working in the lab. After a brief discombobulation, though, I realized it really was 2021, a date that belongs in a science fiction novel, and most of my life had just flown by. It’s going to take a while to get used to this.

So that must be what senility is like, just a whole series of shocks over the most mundane moments. Maybe my brain is going.

Nah, not really. I got very little sleep last night, work has been piling up again, I’m dog tired and stuck doing the most mindless routine tedium. I’ll mention this incident next time I see a doctor for a checkup (that should happen next month, once I’m fully vaccinated), but I think what I really need to do is catch up on my sleep and put a lot of work behind me. A nap and a vacation, that’s what I need.


  1. says

    Proper labeling is the hallmark of good lab-keeping. I once called out a senior pharmaceutical researcher at a meeting for only labeling the lid. Awkward…

  2. springa73 says

    I occasionally have the same problem – when I’m in a hurry I almost write a date that is years or occasionally decades behind the actual one, like my brain can’t really believe how much time has passed.

  3. JoeBuddha says

    I hear ya. Spent a minute or so staring at the card reader in the self checkout trying to figure out where the card goes.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Fatigue and lack of sleep can definitely do a number on your ability to recall simple information. I recall once trying to put gas in the car during my primary caregiver years, and couldn’t remember my zip code to verify the card. Don’t recall how I solved that issue. Looking back, I could have simply looked at my drivers license address. Since then, I have pulled out my cell phone to verify the time and date on occasion after my retirement. The days do tend to run together.

  5. nomdeplume says

    I recently had a similar experience – turned out I was having a stroke (which was dealt with promptly in hospital with no lasting effects). Don’t put it down to a “senior’s moment” PZ, not being able to write the year is outside the range of being forgetful. Do see your doctor.

  6. Jazzlet says

    Lack of sleep will definitely have that effect on your memory, and far worse*, so I hope you manage to get at least couple of decent nights sleep.

    I become a raging beast with a hair-trigger temper over the slightest deviation from How Things Must Be Done if I don’t get enough sleep for more than a week, partly because lack of sleep gives me migraines, but also because that’s what I’m like if I don’t control myself.

  7. Alt-X says

    Haha this happened to me the other day, I wrote 2001. My brain is like, no, that’s not right. I’m thinking, well it can’t 2021 that’s ridiculous… Oh wait!

    And we’re already on our way to April! It’s going to be 2030 before we know it. :(

  8. kudayta says

    I hate to be that guy, but #7 is right. I mean, the worst that’ll happen is that the doctor will laugh at you. Might as well go get checked out.

  9. says

    Yes, I’ll see a doctor eventually. I’ll also see a dentist eventually. I’ll also get a haircut someday. Everything is just piling up, thanks to COVID-19.

  10. unclefrogy says

    I have a slightly different problem with when (dates) I hardly ever think about dates and just barely think about days of the week. I have been working for myself for way too long i guess though dates were never followed very closly,. I can remember what OK but the when is always indistinct,
    I can’t remember when because I do not pay very much attention when then or now.
    So how will i know if I’m loosing it?
    uncle frogy

  11. JoeBuddha says

    @unclefrogy I have NEVER understood dates. The Tick said, “You have a close relationship with reality. I have to call it, ‘Mr. Reality'”. I’m the same way about dates.

  12. stroppy says

    I periodically have similar moments. Sometimes it’s associated with being distracted, sometimes when feeling rushed, generally both. Sleep is definitely a factor; stress, background anger and impatience too. I’m trying to cultivate a different mindset and focus. We’ll see how that goes.

    Getting old sucks enough. And four years of Trumpism plus covid has been, and continues to be, more generally deleterious to the psyche than people seem to want to admit. This is the stinking swill our brains are swimming in every single day.

  13. stroppy says

    Speaking of senior moments, I meant to mention, maybe keep tabs on your blood pressure.

  14. wsierichs says

    I was going to make a comment, but now I can’t remember what it was. At 68, my memory has faded a good bit. (I initially wrote 67, forgetting for a moment that I just had another birthday. Well, it was 6 months ago. I sometimes can’t remember where I ate lunch, later in the day. I think the big issue is being retired. One day often seems like another, especially with the virus keeping me housebound.

  15. says

    I’m a few years older than you, PZ, and I’ve had similar experiences. Our skills diminish in time. I never used to use bookmarks because I would just remember the page number I was on. I use them now. In grad school I was able to carry on a conversation on one topic while writing notes about something else; my multitasking skills are of a lower order now. I’m probably no longer a prime prospect for “Jeopardy!”, even if I still yell questions at the TV during episodes.
    But brain glitches aren’t that new a phenomenon. I remember the incident in 8th grade (back in 1965) when I struggled for several minutes to figure out how to spell “why.” I knew that I knew it, but I couldn’t for the life of me retrieve it at that moment. One long downhill slide from there!

  16. Rich Woods says

    @anthonybarcellos #20:

    I never used to use bookmarks because I would just remember the page number I was on.

    I think I lost that ability somewhere around the age of 27. At least I think that’s when it was; I can’t quite remember.

  17. brightmoon says

    I’ve had that happen at age 11. Forgot the name of a smaller child I had been tending since school started in September. This was later, around late winter. Couldn’t tell what sex she was either . Scared the heck out of me which is why I remember it 50 years later. Don’t worry about it . it probably was because you were overtired

  18. Allison says

    My issue is that when a form asks for my birth date, I tend to put in the correct month and day, but the current year.

    Another peculiarity that I’ve always had: when a sentence includes gendered terms for both (binary) genders, I tend to mix up which gender goes with which person. E.g., “her husband” might end up as “his wife” or even “her wife.” Given how touchy most cis people are about being misgendered, it was sometimes a problem, so I have to mentally run a check on the sentence after I compose it but before I say it. (I wonder if that was an early symptom of my trans-ness….)

  19. anat says

    Yes, memory performance deteriorates with age. Yes, it can get worse than typical with poor sleep. But all of us who are noticing incidents need to pay attention – how frequently they are happening, how difficult it is to come back to reality. Are things getting worse, or staying the same? If things are worsening, do get thoroughly checked out. There is a lot that can be done to stop the decline and even reverse it (though much of it has yet to filter through to common medical practice).

  20. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    @Allison #23:

    You said “I wonder if that was an early symptom of my trans-ness”

    I would reword that slightly as “trans-ness gave me an early understanding (or suspicion) of the artificiality of gendered speech” but I think you are right that it could be related.

  21. sc_e7cb37166b0ed7e2545034076d87e16c says

    I was feeling irritated during Winter Storm Uri and the terrible price gouging in Texas that more people didn’t make connections to the ENRON scandal and the way they screwed California back in the day….then I realized that story was TWENTY YEARS AGO and before 9/11 and that even Millennials were children when it happened. Still feels like only yesterday for me….

  22. Allison says

    Numenaster @25

    I would reword that slightly as “trans-ness gave me an early understanding (or suspicion) of the artificiality of gendered speech”

    I think it was more that I had (and still have) no internal sense of gender. It was just one of the many weirdnesses of the society I’d been plopped into which I had to keep straight while at the same time trying to say whatever I needed to say. It’s a little like remembering all the declensions of words and the exceptions when I try to speak Russian. It’s hard to both put my thoughts into words and figure out the correct form of each word at the same time, all in “real time.”