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Ann Brenoff

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Blame My Doorway For Senior Moments

Posted: 11/29/11 09:02 AM ET

I regularly walk into my kitchen and open a drawer, only to forget what I am looking for. I walk into our laundry room to claim some clean socks, only to forget what it was I needed. When I call for the dog, my kid's name sometimes comes out of my mouth. And as much as I dislike Rick Perry, I totally got how he couldn't remember the third federal department he plans on eliminating if we elect him President.

Now finally, we have something to blame for those unfortunately named "senior moments." It's the doorway.

New research from University of Notre Dame Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky says that the act of passing through a doorway causes memory lapses. Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an "event boundary" in our minds.

He says, "Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized." In other words: If you are gift-wrapping at the dining room table and walk to the bathroom to get the scissors, you won't remember that it was scissors you were after once you cross the threshold of the doorway because the decision to get them still lives in the dining room.

I don't know about you, but this news makes me so Snoopy Dance-happy that I plan on wallpapering my bathroom with the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology that published it, assuming I remember where I put it.

While I love having something to pin my increasingly frequent memory lapses on -- I personally like to blame exhaustion and stress -- the truth is this study finally provides some real news we can use: If doorways are the culprit, we should just eliminate them.

This provides a solution to aging in place that's so simple it's hard to believe that the generation responsible for turning Starbucks' cups into fashion accessories (I forget -- that was us, wasn't it?) didn't think of this sooner: Boomers need homes with open floor plans. Bingo! Build us one big open-space great room with a kitchen on one end and our bedroom on the other. OK, maybe put in a sliding wall for the bathroom for the more-modest among us. But let's get rid of all those memory-savaging doorways.

This study is worth getting excited about for another reason too: The test subjects who were the walking-through-the-doorway guinea pigs were college students, which means that even the young are having "senior moments." So maybe our senior moments aren't so senior after all?

Truth is, memory loss is our generation's boogeyman. It's the scary monster in the closet for those of us who have seen dementia and Alzheimer's disease up close as it diminishes our parents and elderly relatives. It's what we fear will happen to us and as a result, every trip to the grocery store where we forget the main thing that brought us there, every photo that we look at where we can't remember the name of the friend we were with, every book we pick up and wonder if we've already read it, scares the bejesus out of us.

We compensate by making lists and putting yellow stick-'em notes on our car's dashboard, but every time someone makes a senior moment joke, we cringe a little and worry that there is something more to not being able to remember why we just called our spouse. But from now on, at least, we'll be able to blame the door.

 
 
 

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