GAY AND GRAY: Caster and Me - Musings About Gender
Vintage TGB: 28 September 2004

Forgetfulness

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category_bug_journal2.gif We all have those momentary slips of the mind. You know, like why did I walk into the bedroom? Where are my reading glasses? Or, as recently happened, telling myself that when I'm done feeding the cat I'll sew a button on that jacket only to find, when I wanted to wear it the next day, I had forgotten to do so.

On Wednesday, my weekly morning for the farmers' market and the supermarket, I left the house armed with a list. Not the usual list of generalities – fruit, veggies, fish; a detailed list with what I need for a weekend dinner party. On the drive, I remembered that I had not noted the cooking chocolate I need for a dessert. No problem. It's in the same aisle with the walnuts that are on the list.

Ninety minutes later, as I set down packages in the kitchen, the thought appeared crystal clear in my brain: Damn, I forgot the chocolate. Why couldn't I have remembered when I still at the store? Only one @#$%^& item that wasn't written down and I blow it. Again. It happens all the time.

So far, the commonmplace ailments of age haven't bothered me much. I can live with the occasional unexplained ache or pain. I am resigned to falling asleep at an hour when I used to be eating dinner. I've learned how to deal with a leaky pipe when I sneeze or laugh. But this short term memory issue is the most annoying side effect of getting old. It's more than annoying; it's infuriating, a waste of precious time.

It's not that I ever had a great memory for short-term needs. Until I bought a key and letter holder to hang next to the door many years ago, it could take half an hour to get out of the house while I searched for keys. From the time I was a kid, I've found myself wondering why I've walked into a room. It is common for me stare into a kitchen drawer with a completely blank mind when the unpeeled potatoes are right there staring back at me.

But it all seems more frequent now – one of these things happens almost every day. Maybe more and I've forgotten. How would I know?

I blame it on the fact that I started making daily lists when I was in high school and I've never stopped. Work or personal, if it's not written down it doesn't happen. I make such a fetish of my daily lists that I use a special kind of notebook and am out of sorts when I've forgotten to purchase a new supply before the current one runs out.

Daily lists are in addition to computer reminders I've set to ding at me before birthdays, anniversaries, doctor appointments, scheduled meetings and the like. Half a century of lists have left me with no practice at holding anything in mind. Mostly it is temporary information that slips away so easily. Long term and newly acquired knowledge I need to have available at a future time seem to be intact. But again, how would I know?

Then there is my up/down, left/right, yes/no problem. Whichever is the answer doesn't stick with me unless I write it down to refer to later. If you have given me driving directions with only two turns, I will undoubtedly screw up one of them.

On my last job before retiring, there was a big project on the boards. It was expensive and needed a well-considered decision about going forward or not. Five or six of us spent a week researching our individual areas of expertise, then we reported back to one another in a hour-long meeting, weighed the possibilities, probabilities, etc. and a decision was reached.

Back at my desk, I had no memory of if we had made it a go. I tried to recall the conversation and I checked my notes; there was nothing that helped me recall. Only a couple of minutes had passed but I couldn't resurrect the decision. It took some careful stealth maneuvering with my colleagues for me to determine what we had decided without admitting my lapse.

Incipient Alzheimer's or other kind of dementia doesn't worry me. My complaints seem to be relatively common among healthy old people – and some young ones. I'm just really annoyed at the wasted time and that nagging feeling, too often, that something important has been left undone.

I've recently created a new procedure that is beginning to help with some kinds of forgetfulness. When I think, perhaps in the middle of writing a blog post, that the deck needs sweeping, I attach the thought, “I wonder if I'll remember to do this.” It is working more often than not - unless I've forgotten when it doesn't.

If any of this sounds familiar to you – aside from similar experiences of your own - here's a laugh: I just discovered that this is a reasonable facsimile of a story I published here only seven months ago. But I have finished writing this post now and there are other things on my list today, so you're stuck with it. I'm counting on your memory being as poor as mine to indulge me in this repetition.


EDITORIAL NOTE: The second episode of Life (Part 2) has been published at the PBS website, this one on generation gaps. Here is a clip:

You can watch the full episode here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: Living with Animals


Comments

Yesterday I drove all the way to the library, realized my purse was at home!

But I remembered to bring the bag of clothes to dump in the Sally Ann box.

At home I use a student agenda book and write down everything I need to do, plus we use a calendar and write events in the boxes so we each know what the other is doing.

Leaving home, I bring a list, always a list and keep a pen in my car to scratch off each item as it gets done.

Luckily no cop stopped me yesterday when I had no purse.

Jet lag from a trip to Turkey, has made me act weirder than normal this week, as I am getting up at 3 a.m. watching a whole bunch of cop movies and Jimmy Fallon shows.

I guess this is what it's like to be a shift worker.

Some of these shows are good. Never knew I could laugh this loud alone in my office at 3 a.m.

What the heck, I'll go with it and see what else I can learn in the dark.

I usually visit one of my sisters early on Sunday morning and have coffee with her and her husband. Of course it's a given that one of the first things I will be asked is what I did this past week. So usually beginning on Fridays, or at the latest Saturday, I begin making exerted efforts at making mental notes about the things I want to be sure and tell my sister I did. Or perhaps something I found out relating to one of our previous conversations.

As soon as I get there I sit down, she brings me a nice hot cup of coffee and asks something like, "Well old man of leisure, what did you do this week?" The old mind scrambles for my mental notes and usually my response is, "Nothing."

Believe it not, there have been times when I prepare for this visit like a high schooler preparing for a debate, writing little short notes on a small piece of paper. The challenge then becomes finding the appropriate time to pull it out of my pocket and get a quick glance. Then when I get the clue I immediately burst out with, "Oh, you'll never guess what I......."

Life can be such a challenge! :)

It's such a joy to know that I am not alone in this little adventure called "aging" -- I simply could not live without my little "post-it-note" reminders and daily list of "to-do's" and "to-gets." Thanks for making me feel "okay."

I think short term memory problems occur when every other thought in the world gets between action and result. For example, when going from one room to another to get or do something to complete a task, my mind hates boredom and during the time to get from point A to point B my mind goes off to think about something more interesting than getting from points A to B. Ergo when I get to point B the interesting thoughts have overwritten the purpose of the trip.

I just remembered we were going to try to get to the farmer's market on Wednesday!

You're all making me laugh out loud.

doctafill: I've left home without my purse more than once.

AlanG: I've never thought to write down notes, but I often find myself in conversation with someone knowing there was something I meant to tell them, but can't remember what it is.

Lois: Thanks for reminding me this IS an adventure - many new things to deal with.

flutterby: I think you're right. We don't like silence of mind much, so we keep trying to fill it up.

Zuleme: Yeah, even though it's a weekly habit, I've missed a couple of Wednesday farmers' markets by losing track of which day it is.

I love your post and, equally, all the comments. A tale is told of how one should learn from one's rabbi (I'm sure other tales features an imam or a minister, shaman, et al.). WATCH HOW THE RABBI TIES THE RABBI'S OWN SHOES... The message? "God (or the devil) is in the details" and doing is what matters. So I ask, about your sentence, "I use a special kind of notebook..." Pray tell, rabbi Ronni... what is that special kind of notebook?

In high school, I had a teacher who had reached the end of her career. She seemed quite old at the time and, since it was a private school, probably was up there in years. I remember the way Mrs. Sims would tell us to "take out a brand new brain cell" and attach a certain idea to it. I didn't need to do that consciously as a young person to remember things, but do so now and it helps ...

You are not alone. I forgot to make a grocery list this week. Ah, well. At least I remembered to ask the doc to take off a mole.

I rthink this is the kind of comment that bears repeating even if you did write it recently. I do the same thing and it also both irritates and sometimes worries me. What I think is we have too many things on our minds. So we think chocolate but that reminds us of the recipe we wanted to make and then what about the health care bill, just hear something new on that and should I write about it again, wonder what such and such person is doing today or did I call when I should have, why haven't they called? and on it goes with the constant stream of mind noise which eventually gets us home before we remember what it was we forgot.

I was never a list maker but sometimes I do it now-- although then you have to remember to look at it.

For the past three or four years, I avoid, whenever possible, carrying a purse. Instead, I use a cell phone case that holds credit cards, license, etc., with shoulder strap; car keys either in my pocket or hanging from a lanyard around my neck. This since I began leaving restaurants, theatres, etc., without my handbag. Luckily, I was always able to retrieve it, but in the process freaked out thinking not only did I possibly lose all that was inside my purse, but maybe I was losing my mind as well. Now, unless someone cuts off my head, I’m not going to lose anything. I don’t like it, but if this is what it means to grow older, so be it!

Heck -- this was so fascinating that I forgot that I got up promptly this morning because I am committed to doing the "shopping" for the Food Bank at this hour on Fridays.

I frequently feel a back of the mind tickle that tells me I've missed a mental note, but it can take hours to get back to what it was -- if I ever remember to get back to it.

This despite writing lists.

Thank you for sending the link to the Life series. I must have missed the first link, so I just viewed Part 2 this morning. You are just amazing in your connected-ness. Is that a word!?

Oh do I ever feel better after reading all of the above. I was really beginning to worry about dementia.

I will be merrily writing a sentence and the word I want to use is just gone. I don't know where it disappeared to, but I can't retrieve it. It may be an adjective, noun, pronoun or the name of a person. I reach for the thesaurus to find a substitute word because I do remember the kind of thing I want to say, but I never find the first word I wanted to use.

I can understand the old joke when the preacher asked to old woman if she gave any thought to the hereafter and she replied: "Oh my, yes, every time I enter a room as ask 'What am I here after'." Well, that sort of forgetfulness is normal, but it was beginning to frighten me when I couldn't remember a word like 'initiative' or something of that nature. Maybe that's normal, too.

According to an article about Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) prepared by the Center for Gerontology, Blacksburg, VA, October, 2006 and published by Virginia Tech, "Many people believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging and do not think they need to seek medical help.....In fact, memory problems can result from a variety of medical conditions...."

As an example of the truth of this, a few years ago I began to experience progressive memory loss which got so bad that sometimes I had no recollection of conversations or events that had occurred minutes before. Sometimes I would be halfway through watching a TV program before I realized that I had seen it before. In the middle of a conversation I would forget what the conversation was about or I couldn't think of the next word I wanted to say.

The only thing that I could identify as being different in my life since before the memory problems started was that my doctor had prescribed a statin drug to lower my cholesterol.

After finding memory loss as one of the possible side effects of statin drugs, I had my doctor take me off the statin. Within a short period (about two weeks), my memory was back to normal. My doctor then prescribed several other types of statins, but my reaction to each of them was the same. Consequently, no statin drugs for me.

Since that experience, I make sure that I'm aware of the possible side effects of any medication my doctor prescribes. In my opinion, anyone taking prescription drugs should do the same.

Don't just chalk up memory loss to getting older. There may be some underlying medical problem causing it.

Thanks Ronni,
And everyone else whi contributed to today's blog.
Just last week my wife and I had a meeting with a rep. from one of the insurance companies that offers "long Term care Insurance'. During the course of the meeting he mentioned that there were certain pre-existing conditions that would disqualify us for the insurance and (obviously) Alzheimer's was high on the list. I've been worrying about this ever since but after learning about others' experiences - I guess I'm OK. (Or were all "ga-ga")

Well to some degree I am comforted by this forgetting or memory laps due to aging, but I am only 53. What really scares me, when talking to someone I forget noun and adjective words that I would normally use. This happens everyday. Or like you Ronnie, I don't have an item written down on my list and just as I am walking into the store make a mental note (ha ha) to myself to get this item and then totally forget. Most times my forgetting really upsets me and think that I have the beginnings of early dementia or Alzheimer's disease. I am to the point of asking my doctor to test for these diseases that's how unnerved I am about this forgetting. Sometimes I can't help but think what my cognitive condition will be in five years. Maybe I am over reacting.

Thanks for the laughs!

I can't tell you the last time I went into a grocery store and got all the items on my list -- if I remembered to bring the list. This is why coupons don't work for me. I get to the check-out stand and forget I have them -- if I remembered to bring them, of course!

I agree with Rain's comment that we simply have too much on our minds. And I agree with George P.'s advice to make sure that a drug isn't causing a problem for you.

Now, what was I going to do next?

Another invaluable post. Many of the examples in the comments are all too familiar. But like Donna above, my fifty-four years seems a bit early for 'hereafter' syndrome. And when I factor in a family history of Alzheimer's, it's tough to laugh at forgetting my keys. Still, the post gave me some laughs, and a few strategies to boot. Thanks to all!

I meant to comment yesterday, but forgot! I have to remember for two in this house - what needs doing in the garden, shopping, accounts, social diary - and without little notebooks for things, life would grind to a halt. Also I have a kitchen timer to remind me, as long as I put a Post-it on it to remind me why I put the timer on!

I've always kept a shopping list to stop me from impulse buying and very occasionally I deliberately go the supermarket without one and see what happens.....very liberating. Problem is, stuff gets put in the cupboard or fridge for that special recipe one day, and gets forgotten.

We're both very neat people (a place for everything etc.) so don't spend hours looking for things. But words, names, quiz answers, elude us. No surprise then I struggle with learning my Spanish.

Great post, Ronni. Thanks for more laughs about the comical side of our aging lives.

Enjoyed this memory frustrations up date -- think of it this way, you're not repeating, Ronni, this is just a current recap.

I frequently go out to the car, start the motor, then remember I forgot my cell phone -- something I haven't had to carry until the past couple of years. I'd think I'd remember to check for it before I leave the house after all this time, but not so. The whole point of my getting a cell phone at my family members urging was to have me carry it with me when I'm away from home, especially driving in the car. I guess the car reminds me, but why don't I remember before I leave the house?

All the concern we have about dementia when we start exhibiting memory problems causes me to think in the future I may want to write something simple about the actual stages and symptoms.

Oh my....I was just typing away this morning on something of no importance whatsoever when I remembered on of my favorite jokes regarding memory and just had to run over here and post it....

******************************************

An 80 year old couple was having problems remembering things, so they decided to go to their doctor to get checked out to make sure nothing was wrong with them. When they arrived at the doctor’s office they explained to the doctor about the problems they were having with their memory.

After checking the couple out, the doctor tells them that they were physically okay but they might want to start writing things down and make notes to help them remember things. The couple thanked the doctor and left.

Later that night while watching TV, the husband got up from his chair and his wife asks, "Where are you going?"

He replies, "To the kitchen."

She asks, "Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?"

He replies, "Sure."

She then asks him, "Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?"

He says, "No, I can remember that."

She then says, "Well, I also would like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down cause I know you'll forget that."

He says, "I can remember that, you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries."

She replies, "Well, I also would like whip cream on top. And I know you will forget that so you better write it down."

With irritation in his voice, he says, "I don't need to write that down, I can remember that." He then fumes off and into the kitchen.

After about 20 minutes he returns from the kitchen and hands her a plate of bacon and eggs.

She stares at the plate for a moment and says, "You forgot my toast."

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