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PUMPING IRONY: You Must Be Mistaken

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mistake

Recent research suggests that geezers are less likely than young adults to recognize when they err. This is problematic — except when it’s not.

I like to think of myself as a pretty detail-oriented guy, which would explain my confusion the other night when I couldn’t find my toothbrush. My Lovely Wife had visited the dentist earlier in the day and a brand-new model lay on the shelf in the bathroom next to the cup holding her old one.

“What happened to my toothbrush,” I inquired.

“It’s in the cup,” MLW replied.

“That’s yours,” I countered. “Mine is the brown one.”

“No, the brown one was mine,” she explained. “Have you been using my toothbrush?”

“Uh . . . I thought it was mine.”

“That explains why it was always wet and wore out so fast,” she concluded. “Yours is the blue one.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Oh. Sorry about that.”

We all make mistakes, but the older you get the less likely you’ll recognize them. At least, that’s what University of Iowa researchers recently discovered after observing how a group of 20-somethings acknowledged their errors compared with a group of seniors.

Instructed to maintain their focus on an object appearing on a computer screen, the geezer group performed just as well as their younger counterparts, but they were loath to admit their attention had wandered, reported study author Jan Wessel, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

“The good news is older adults perform the tasks we assigned them just as well as younger adults, albeit more slowly,” Wessel said in a statement released by the university. “But we find there is this impaired ability in older adults to recognize an error when they’ve made one.”

And it wasn’t simply a case of denial to save face, he added. “The older adults often had no idea at all that they were wrong.”

This can have more serious real-world consequences than mistakenly sharing a toothbrush, he warned. Error-prone seniors may not recognize that they’ve forgotten to take their medications, for instance, or they may refuse to acknowledge their eroding driving skills.

Or, as in the case of the missing toothbrush, an erring geezer might find little incentive to mend his ways if there’s an upside to his mistake. While my embarrassment dissipated rather quickly, my toothbrush is going to last a lot longer than I had expected.

is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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