On a recent Saturday, I escaped from the retirement center with two delightful fellow inmates. I wanted to learn how to ride a bus, something I hadn’t done in years. Fortunately my new friends were game to show me the ropes. One supplied me with a ticket. The other gave me instructions on how to pull the cord when I wanted the driver to let me off.
Keeping my balance on a moving vehicle was a challenge. The seats were bone hard and as the bus swerved around corners, I swerved with it like a corn-stalk in the wind. My companions took the jostling in stride but I was glad when I found myself on terra firma, again. Unfortunately, I was in for another surprise. In the years during my absence, many of the downtown landmarks familiar to me had disappeared. I stood peering up at glass towers, high enough to put a crick in my neck.
Happily, the museum was where I’d left it and so my friends and I took in an exhibit of fashion designs by American Indians. Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch at an Italian restaurant, our spaghetti seasoned with laughter. By the time I returned home, I’d become a veteran of our public transportation system.
Thinking back on the experience, I was amazed by how much we’d done, proving that time is relative. For most of us time speeds up when we are enjoying ourselves. Recollecting the event, psychologists say, changes our perception and gives us an expanded sense of the time, particularly if the experience was unique. (“Why does time seem to speed up with age?” by Esther Robison, Scientific American Mind, July/August, 2016, pg. 73) If the incident is unfamiliar, the brain plunges into learning mode and focuses on recording every detail. Time is forgotten. But as we look back, those details unfold leisurely and in a sequence that makes them seem longer.
This new understanding of the brain’s time relativity helps us appreciate why creating new experiences for the elderly are so vital. Novelty forces the brain to speed up, a form exercise. With this latest bit of knowledge, I hope you won’t be surprised if I decide to take up pole dancing.
(The blog first published 8/2/16)