Like pretty much everyone, I suppose, who reaches a certain age, I fear losing my mind to physical deterioration. Call it dementia or Alzheimer's or whatever the applicable medical terminology is, the thing that strikes many old people is a horrible thing. I saw it with my beloved maternal grandmother when I was in my early teens, and was confused, disturbed and a little frightened by it. And a friend of mine is going through it now with her mother, who no longer recognizes her or anyone else, cannot use a knife and fork, has long since ceased to be able to enjoy things like reading which were a huge part of her life, and is often angry or depressed. I understand and wholly accept the Church's teaching against euthanasia and suicide, but I can certainly understand why people who don't have a belief in some kind of transcendent reality which makes suffering meaningful would see no reason why they shouldn't do it in such a terrible situation. And although one cannot approve of action to make it happen, I don't think there's anything wrong with praying for a speedy end to the ordeal.
Anyway: I don't dwell on it, and mostly maintain a combination of "thy will be done" and que sera sera attitudes when the thought presents itself. But I do feel uneasy whenever I have the sort of odd mental lapse that seems to come with normal aging, and worry that it's a sign of bad things to come. The inability to come up with proper names when they're needed, for instance, happens to me often enough, and I notice it in other people my age. That one, I'm told, is nothing to worry about it, though it can be embarrassing.
There's another little phenomenon which may or may not be a normal old age thing, but which strikes me as interesting with respect to the way the mind works. It's the unconscious substitution, when writing, of one word for another. It happened to me a day or two ago as I was composing an email to a friend. I intended to say "I'll say more in another email later." But when I read over the text before sending it, as I have learned to do for just this reason, I found that I had written "I'll say more in another email letter."
This happens to me regularly. And it's not what we ordinarily mean by a typographical or spelling error. The substituted word is always related to the intended one in spelling, and often in meaning as well. When it's only spelling, like "through" for "though", it's always a real word. And even if the meaning is rather different, as in this example, it often makes sense in the sentence, though not necessarily as much sense as the intended word.
What makes it so interesting to me is that it is completely unconscious. The discovery of "letter" instead of "later" in this instance was a complete surprise to me, as much as it would have been if someone else had gotten hold of my computer and changed it. It seems to offer a glimpse into the mechanics of communication, which in one's native language are largely unconscious--the extent to which some sort of invisible machinery goes into play when we write or talk. In a rough way, what seems to happen is that my conscious mind has an idea that it intends to communicate, and a rough notion of what words are required, and it calls on this partly-visible mechanism to come up with the specific words and order the fingers to type them. But what the mechanism actually delivers is not exactly what was called for: close, but not exactly. It seems to indicate that the selection of words, or at least the setting-down of them, is partly carried on below the surface of consciousness. Anyone who has any facility for writing at all is familiar with the sense that words, phrases, and whole sentences sometimes simply appear, popping into existence intact and in toto.
Perhaps this particular phenomenon has mainly to do with the mechanism of typing itself. I learned to type, or at least learned the keyboard, when I was in my mid-teens: an odd skill for a teenaged boy in 1964 or so to have acquired, and it happened only because my father was annoyed that my older sister and I appeared to have nothing useful to do one summer, and made us take a night class in typing. Looking back on it, that seems a strange thing for him to have done. But he's not here for me to ask him why he did it, and I've certainly benefited from the fact that typing is as automatic and unconscious an action for me as driving, which I learned around the same time. There is not much conscious thought between my intention for a word to appear on this screen and the motions of my fingers that make it so. (The following year I started working for my uncle on the farm during the summer vacation, which was a lot better than taking a typing class.)
Whether this foreshadows more serious mental failings, I don't know. But I guess I can see how such misfires could spread and accumulate into a serious problem, resulting in more and more difficulty in connecting with one's surroundings. I wouldn't mind hearing that someone under 55 or so experiences the same thing sometimes. If I did it when I was much younger, I don't remember--which could just be another symptom of age.
And now I've sort of spooked myself about the whole thing.