I spent most of last Saturday working in the yard. It’s a wonder that I got anything done. From the time I sat down in the garage to put my work shoes on at 7 a.m. until I sat back down to take them off at 3:30 I wandered around the yard like a blindfolded chicken looking for bugs. That was not the way I had planned the day.
The night before I thoughtfully prepared a list of projects to do, but I forgot and left the list on the kitchen counter so by the time I tied my second shoelace I had pretty much forgotten what the first item on the list was.
I think the first job I did was to tie up the tomato plants but I can’t say for sure because, as I’m writing this early on Sunday morning, it has been almost 24 hours and my short term memory bank only goes back about 24 minutes (that’s on a good day.)
On a serious note, short term memory loss can be a sign of serious dementia and should not be ignored. What I’m talking about is the less serious but more common condition known as Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder, or AAADD. If you are over age 50, it is almost certain that you suffer from this disorder for which, unfortunately, there is no means of prevention, nor a known cure.
The encyclopedia of Medical Diagnoses of the Geriatric Generation defines AAADD as, “A condition of chronic and persistent forgetfulness, exacerbated by a tendency to be continually distracted from one moment to the next. Typically, patients with AAADD are still capable of successfully performing many worthwhile tasks, but they rarely perform tasks in the order in which they were planned, and may often fail to complete the task which they started out to do.”
As the renowned German geriatrician Albert Gustov Einstein (not to be confused with the famous physicist who did not have a middle name) reported in the prestigious Journal der Geistesabwesend, “This condition [AAADD], while frustrating and annoying, and at times even exasperating, should not be taken too seriously. In all but the most extreme cases the patient will eventually remember the task that he or she had set out to do and will successfully complete it. Therapists should remind their patients of the “out of site – out of mind” theory. Generally, little harm is done if a task is totally forgotten and, therefore, there is no reason for discontent.” Wise counsel, indeed.
In the hope that it may be of some encouragement to know that you do not suffer alone, I will share my personal experience of last Saturday.
As I stood from putting my shoes on, I decided to go back to the kitchen to get a drink of water. When I entered the kitchen I spotted my to-do list on the counter and remembered that I needed to add, “hang the new birdhouse,” to the list. I looked around the room for an ink pen but didn’t see one so I walked over to look for one in the junk drawer.
As I pilfered through the drawer, I noticed the pliers and remembered that I needed to tighten the spring on the screen door – I don’t recall if this was on the list, but it needed to be done.
When I opened the screen door, I noticed the tomato plants had grown quite a bit and needed tied. I tightened the spring on the screen door, slipped the pliers into my hip pocket, then headed to the utility room to get some rags and the scissors to cut strips for the tomato plants.
On the way I remembered I was thirsty so I went to the kitchen to get a drink of water, but first I glanced at the to-do list again. The first item said, “trim wisteria,” so I headed to the garage to get the pruning shears.
By the time I reached the garage I’d forgotten what I was there for so I sat down to think about it. When I sat down something felt uncomfortable and I reached for my back pocket to see what it was – “The pliers, how did these get in my back pocket?” Oh yeah, the screen door. The pliers reminded me that tightening the outside water spigot was on my to-do list, but the thought of water also reminded me that I was still thirsty so I headed back to the kitchen.
I got a drink of water, and by the end of the day had completed most of the tasks on my to-do list plus several more not on the list, but in no particular order.
That’s pretty much the way my day went, and that is how AAADD works. It can definitely be frustrating, but I have found a little trick that can help. Sometimes when I catch myself in the midst of an AAADD episode trying to remember the first task I wanted to do, I will try backtracking to the beginning.
For example, I would go to the screen door and then to the junk drawer, and then to the tomato plants…or was it tomato plants junk drawer, then screen door? Okay, backtracking doesn’t always work and you always run the risk getting sidetracked to another task, which can trigger a whole new AAADD episode.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Many of our employees at Clermont Senior Services suffer from AAADD. We’ve even considered starting an AAADD support group. It can be both comforting and reassuring to sit in a circle with others who suffer from AAADD and listen as they share their stories. “Hi, I’m George and I have AAADD…”
George Brown is the executive director of Clermont Senior Services.