Destination Amnesia

He said: “Where were you? I was worried.”

She said: “I told you this morning I was going shopping after work.”05-25-11-talkingonphone.jpg

He said: “You did not tell me.”

She: “Yes I did!”

He: “No you didn’t!

”The reality was that she had really told her daughter in the morning, not her husband.

Did you ever have one of these conversations? Well, if you did you are certainly not unique. We prob-ably all heard the phrase “stop me if I’ve told you this before.” We all forget things now and then but telling the same story to someone more than once really can be a sign you are getting older.

Destination memory is remembering who you have told things to. Dr. Nigel Gopie from Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Canada conducted a study comparing older and younger adults’ destina-tion memory. He said, “What we’ve found is that older adults tend to experience more destination amnesia than younger adults.” Destination amnesia is defined as incor-rectly believing that you gave or shared information with one person when, in fact, you really told another person. One reason for this condition is that people, especially as they get older, have a decreased ability to focus. They use up most of their attention resources in just providing the information. As a result, they don’t always concentrate as much on who the person is that they are sharing the information with. While generally this is not a big problem, there are times when it can be very disruptive to everyday living and can result in unnecessary stress and arguments. This can also be a problem leading to miscommunication in the doctor’s office which is a good reason that someone should accompany an older adult to a doc-tor’s appointment.

Dr. Gopie also stated, “Older adults are additionally highly confident, compared to younger adults, that they have never told people particular things when they ac-tually had. This over-confidence presumably causes older adults to repeat information to people.” On the other hand, source memory is not vulnerable to age-related decline. Source memory is the ability to recall which person told you certain information.

Dr. Gopie offers a couple of tips if you sus-pect you are forgetting who you share information with. First, refocus attention on the person that you’re talking to by inserting their name when you tell them things (“James, you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had with...”). Second, integrate them into the story (“Remember the problems you had at the dry cleaner, Sam? It happened to me...”).

So, next time you have one of those “no you didn’t — yes I did, but you weren’t listening” discussions, just say: “I’m sorry honey, but I think you are having one of those “destination amnesia” moments. At least now you have a clinical term to use in your defense. Then again, if you are like me, maybe you really weren’t ef-fectively listening.

Photo: Telling the same story to someone more than once really can be a sign you are getting older.

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