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Ask Lisi: Vocabulary increases with age but retrieval slows

If you are worried about your forgetfulness, talk to your doctor
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Advice columnist Lisi Tesher

Dear Lisi: I’m nearing my 50s and feeling as though I can’t retrieve the word I’m looking for as quickly as I used to when in conversation with others. I’m young! I can’t possibly be getting Alzheimer’s. What is going on with me and is this normal?

Scared wordless

I’m not a neurologist, nor can I gauge the level of “forgetfulness” that you’re describing. So, I would definitely talk to your doctor to see whether they think there’s a need for more exploration.

However, as we grow older, our internal file of vocabulary words gets lengthier and lengthier. At the same time, our retrieval mechanism starts slowing down. So, it does take longer to find words that you don’t use on a regular basis.

Here are some tips to help combat this:

1) Go through the alphabet in your head, resting on each letter, in hopes that the word will pop out.

2) Ask Google. Very helpful!

3) Do word games, such as those on your phone, laptop, crosswords, even playing Scrabble with friends to increase the agility of your brain

4) Utilize words that you don’t often use in your daily conversation to bring them forward, for easier access.

Dear Lisi: We are four women in our 40s, one pushing 50 years old. At a dinner the other night, the youngest woman in the group, 44, stated that she is unequivocally done with sex. She has no interest in it anymore, is fine for her husband to get it elsewhere, and doesn’t see why she has to partake in something she doesn’t enjoy. We were all stunned!

It’s not like the rest of us are having hanging-from-the-chandeliers sex, but we do have, and enjoy, sex with our partners. One woman, sadly, practically asked if SHE could have sex with the other woman’s husband because her own husband is not into having sex with her, as much as she would like to.

The third woman, and myself, fell into the same frame — we enjoy sex with our husbands; sometimes we want it, sometimes they want it, but we almost always have sex when it’s offered. And it’s a once or twice a month activity.

So, I ask: what’s a normal sex life in your 40s/50s, for long-married couples?

Stable Sex

According to an American survey of 8,000 married couples in their 50s, one-third have sex once or twice a week; one-third, two or three times a month; and one third are in a “sexless” marriage, which means sex less than once a month.

From more research, it appears that this survey is the baseline. But in my opinion, whatever works and is satisfying for both you and your partner is what makes up normal for you.

FEEDBACK Regarding “Lonely Dad” (Oct. 31):

Reader – “I wonder if he has told his wife that he feels lonely when she is away on business. Or is he unhappy being left with children and chores? The couple may need to discuss whether a new household helper is needed, or whether the children can be taught to pitch in more. Both parents might enjoy home time more if they hired someone to do the cleaning, at least.

“It’s hard to know the whole story from what the writer has given you.”

FEEDBACK Regarding the neighbour who feels ignored by her neighbour (Oct. 31):

Reader – “Is he like this with other neighbours? Is it possible there may be a language barrier? I once had a neighbour’s mother who never acknowledged me. She was eastern European and never learned English. Plus, her experiences from ‘her homeland’ caused her to be private. It wasn’t anything personal, it was just who she was. Younger generations living there were completely different and extremely outgoing and friendly.

“If you’re going to suggest baking or gifting, I think it should be something more cultural to make it more personal to the receiver.”

Reader – I agree with your advice that the letter writer with the shared driveway should not take the new neighbour’s behaviour personally.

“Besides shyness, there are other possible explanations. The new neighbour may be hard of hearing, or deaf, or unable to speak due to injury or autism. He may have recently arrived from another country and feel awkward about his lack of fluency in English. If the letter writer is a woman, she could consider that in some countries, it is considered inappropriate for a man to address, or even look at, a woman from another family. A simple nod or wave may suffice until there is some reciprocation.”

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: ellie@thestar.ca or lisi@thestar.ca