Why do old people tumble? | Slate.com

It’s Christmas, and like every year, you’ll no doubt want to spend time with the older members of your family. And it is quite possible that for the umpteenth time you will hear the post-war anecdotes from aunt Jeanine, 89 years old, on the clock. It is also likely that your uncle Younès, 91, will tell you several times during the evening how nice the nurse who vaccinated him this year against flu and Covid was.

Driving – by which we mean the repetition of the same remarks or the same themes in a more or less boring way – is a behavioral characteristic that we associate in a privileged way with the elderly. There are explanations for this phenomenon, which are sometimes social, sometimes affective and psychological. Explanations that allow us to put aside scorn and show more kindness and attention to our elders.

Repeat to exist

Social and affective aspects shed some light on phenomena of teasing that are by no means pathological. “During recent decades, the role of older people in society has developed in a rather negative way. They are less valued socially.states doctor Matthieu Piccoli, geriatrician in Paris.

As soon as their everyday life is no longer very exciting, it is not necessarily very rich in activities and anecdotes to tell, going back to past stories allows them to appreciate themselves. “Repetition is used to mark ‘before I was somebody’ and to take some light”, explains the geriatrician. As psychologist Fanny Cholet and sociologist Antoine Gérard point out in their podcast Culture Ge[ronto], “Saliva has a narcissistic function for the person. This allows you to talk about yourself, your life, your adventures.

In addition – and this also applies to the youngest – repeating the same phrases and the same jokes has an identity function: it marks what is important to oneself, especially existing in the group.

“The older one has more
difficult to put in context
an information […]but also
to remember the recipient
of his word.”


Lucie Angel, lecturer in psychology at the University of Poitiers

If teasing is more or less consciously directed at others in order to improve oneself and create a bond, it also has individual functions. First, repeating one’s anecdotes to relive them makes it possible to hide a possible boredom for older people who would be limited in their options and who have fewer activities than before.

In addition, the repetition of small facts from everyday life also has something reassuring, especially for self-esteem: “Radot is also a way to ensure oneself in one’s abilities. To be able to remember the youngest’s birthday is to say to yourself: “If I still remember it, then I’m not that old”»describes Fanny Cholet and Antoine Gérard.

positive nostalgia

The senior specialist duo also discuss the beneficial effects of nostalgia on mood: “Radot is to remember, and to remember is good. Being nostalgic, remembering the past, generates positive emotions.” In fact, the conclusions of several studies published in 2013 point to its benefits.

In addition to the simple pleasant memory, accounts of facts belonging to the past, often slightly embellished, can enhance feelings of security and promote optimism. Remembering would thus make it possible to see life in pink. “Looking to the past also allows us to protect ourselves from the future. When you’re 90, you can be afraid of what the rest of your life has in store for you.enter the psychologist and the sociologist.

All this is not insignificant when we know that depression affects almost 7% of the elderly in the world and that gloom, anxiety or even insomnia tend to increase with age. So instead of blaming or making fun of this tendency to dwell on happy memories, we could try to stimulate it by taking out photo albums or listening to hits from the era.

Impaired episodic memory

Furthermore, neuropsychology and cognitive psychology shed further light on the phenomena of teasing in the elderly. Lucie Angel, associate professor of psychology at the University of Poitiers and specialist in aging and the psychopathology of memory, confirms in particular that “Aging leads to a decrease in memory capacity and especially a decrease in episodic memory. This means that the elderly find it more difficult to put information into a context – that is, to remember where and when they learned or were given it – but also to remember the recipient of what they have said.” This can make her quicker to give the same information back to the same person.

“To walk is to remember,
and it is good to remember. Being nostalgic, remembering the past generates positive emotions.


Fanny Cholet, psychologist, and Antoine Gérard, sociologist
in their podcast Culture Gé[ronto]

This is typically what happens when Aunt Jeanine tells you a recent anecdote that she had already told you during a family lunch a week earlier. Lucie Angel adds that the circumstances under which the first story took place play into its potential repetition: “The richer the context, the more people there are, the harder it is to remember who has already been given information..» We are thinking here especially of family parties that bring together several generations and are often noisy and rich in various stimuli.

In addition, the psychologist adds that alcohol consumption affects the ability to pay attention, which makes it even more difficult to put a story into context. In other words, Christmas Eve, often lively and drunken, is an event that promotes the phenomena of banter, to say the least.

All this added up, warns doctor Matthieu Piccoli against a possible trivialization of teasing and, more generally, memory problems in the elderly. “If aging is accompanied by a slowdown in performance – a bit like going from 110km/h to 90km/h on the motorway – it’s not normal to not remember what was said just before or to repeat things several times during the race of the same conversation”he asserts.

This can actually be a sign of concentration or memory disorders, the early treatment of which can delay institutionalization for months, if not years. So if you find that Aunt Jeanine is repeating herself a little too much during New Year’s Eve, it might be an opportunity to offer to accompany her to the doctor for a check-up.

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