It seems to me that recently I have had a lot of glitchy spots in my speech, groping for words and ideas when I have a conversation. I often think, “Gee, I am sounding kind of slow here, having some retrieval problems.” This becomes more noticeable when visiting and talking a lot, as when my friend came to stay with me last month for our yearly talkathon. And at my age, I have been prone to just write this off to the famed and expected third stage memory loss.
I’m beginning to think, however, that this is more likely just lack of practice. In my forties, I learned in graduate school that most academics have wonderful facility in remembering concepts, ideas, authors, citations - all kinds of tiny details they so easily store and access off the top of their heads. I greatly admired this, but I could not do it. At least not when I started. But by the time I graduated it was becoming second nature to me as well, and I believe if I had continued in school I would have become as proficient with details as those I admired. It seemed to me then that it was the constant verbal exchange and intercourse, pushing always for more detail and cohesion of argument, that trained me to think better and consequently speak better.
Now, I have a fulltime job where I might speak only to a few people all day - and that only for minutes - in addition to the fact that I really like and have expanded my alone time in the mornings before work. I interact with others in the evenings and on weekends, but mostly with undemanding family and friends. So, I think my verbal skills have atrophied, and when I cannot recall the word I need it is because my mind has not verbally exercised these last years. Could it become as sharp as it was? That is an unknown without actually trying (and where would I find the practice anyway?), but I am not ready to concede that it is the years that are tying my tongue.
Children are not the only ones who need to practice talking. If we spend all our time in less-than-challenging environments, if our main conversation revolves around what we are watching on the television, if we are mostly silent even if reading, we will find our memories and our tongues missing things. This is not to say that there won’t be some slowdown as we age, but I am just not sure that it is as necessary as others seem to think. I can name several 80-year-olds who are still teaching and/or exhibit no slowdown of comprehension or lack of vocabulary. There are always the exceptions to the rule of course, but memory and language practice certainly cannot hurt: take classes, join book clubs, take tours, socialize and participate.
So, Ladies, start your engines: one, two, three, talk!