Short of words

Australian researchers have discovered that ageing people really do tell longer, more boring stories, and longtime readers of my column will have no doubts about the truth of that result. Indeed, in my column in the Herald today I give an intensely personal account that illustrates this, an account I wouldn't dare subject you to twice. The leader of the research, Lauren Saling, says that older people lose the ability to tell a story efficiently, in other words with fewer words, that they are more likely to contradict themselves, that their telling is not as clear as that of younger people.

The researchers had 30 people aged between 18 and 49 and 30 people aged over 65 tell a story about a cowboy who'd been tricked in some way, and they found that while the younger people reduced the number of words required to tell the story as they told it repeatedly the older people did not. They found, too, that only half the older people told the full story while almost all the younger people did.

I suspect that I have more difficulty giving an account of something verbally now than I did as a much younger person. And that is especially when I am doing something else at the same time. I seem to find it harder constructing what I want to say, and sometimes I wonder if this is because I care more now about the construction than I did when I was younger. This difficulty doesn't seem to apply to my writing an account.

I have more trouble, too, retrieving words from my mental files. Indeed, it is wrong to say that I have the word on the tip of my tongue, because the fact is that so often the word is stuck a long way short of my tongue's tip. That problem, I know, is commonly reported by people much younger than me, and recently a workmate at least a decade younger confided that he was so worried by his new propensity to be stuck for a word that he was thinking early-onset dementia!

In my case, at age 59, combining the difficulties of verbal construction and word retrieval means that my accounts are either too short or too long.

Do you find that you have to put more effort into telling a story? Is the tip of your tongue a traffic jam of words? Is there a remedy?

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