More than once or twice I have complained here about how the media seems to work overtime scaring the pants off old people about Alzheimer's disease. There is more reporting about it than any other of the diseases of age.
So today's is hardly a new topic but circumstances change. Or, perhaps, it is one's perception that does the changing. One way or another, the thought of dementia feels different to me lately.
Here is a list of things that happened to me during a single day last week. Actually, it's a list of only the ones I remember. I'm sure you will appreciate the irony of that caveat in a moment.
- As I grabbed the broom from the laundry room where the cat's litter box also lives, I made a mental note to clean the litter box when I returned the broom. A couple of hours later, when I was again in the laundry room to drop some towels in the washer, it hit me that I had failed to do that when I returned the broom. Didn't even cross my mind.
- Leaving the house to go shopping, I took a stamped envelope with me to drop in the outgoing mailbox on my way to the car so it would go out that day. On my way home from the store, I saw the envelope on the passenger seat. I had apparently strolled right past the mailbox without stopping – even with the envelope in my hand.
- As I walked through the door of the supermarket I thought, “Oh, I should also pick up the local weekly.” I clearly remember saying that to myself. The next day I realized I had not bought the newspaper.
- I forgot to put detergent in a laundry load. Never did that before in my life (that I, ahem, recall).
- That Thursday evening, the fifth night of Hannukah, there seemed to be too many candles remaining in the box. A quick count showed that yes, I had missed one night of lighting them. I look forward to this eight-day ritual every year, it's one of my favorite annual things, I eagerly polish the menorah in the lead-up and I cannot work out how I forgot one night.
Thursday was not an isolated bad memory day. I could make such a list - and longer - on most days.
The reason I'm thinking so much about this is that although I've been forgetting similar such small things that require a functional short-term memory on a daily basis for a long while, they seem to be increasing recently.
I don't know that for a fact but it feels that way and for the first time, I'm worried or perhaps the more honest description is that I am frightened, scared.
When I first realize I've again forgotten something nowadays, I can't shrug it off. Instead, it's hard to breathe for a moment or two. Or, sometimes, my brain freezes – nothing there but pure fear bouncing around. I've never felt that way about aspects of being old before.
You and I, dear readers, have made many jokes in these pages about the kinds of memory mistakes that matter and those that don't. “If you can't find your keys,” we say in our laymans' certitude, “you're okay; if you don't know what they're for, you're in trouble.”
We invoke senior moments as another way of finding humor in our ageing selves but they contain, too, a bit of a chill, a sense of whistling past the graveyard.
I can't prove it but it feels like I lose a thought, on average, about once an hour throughout a day and that some of those intentions disappear within a single second.
It's one thing to half-joke, as I did in a recent blog post, about finding the “sweet spot” about the moment, with a diagnosis of dementia, to commit suicide before one's mind is too far gone to accomplish it.
It is quite another thing to wonder sincerely if the need for that act is becoming reality.
Part of me keeps saying, oh, you're just imagining this increase. Even when you were young, you found yourself in rooms wondering why you'd gone there. And then I think it's time for an appointment with a neurologist. Undergo some tests.
When I allow that thought, I'm paralyzed again, not quite rational for a few moments as I desperately reach for a distraction. As they have always said, ignorance is bliss and that seems to be where I am stuck for now.
Because who wants to know for sure this particular dreadful diagnosis.
Maybe I'm fine. Maybe I'm a victim of too much Alzheimer's talk in the media. Maybe I should not have attended that screening a few days ago where I saw Still Alice for the second time. Maybe I am imagining that my memory has gotten worse. Maybe I feel guilty for being remarkably healthy at my age when others are not.
Maybe these thoughts will fade away soon and I'll muddle along as I always have for lot more years. Maybe I'll forget I even wrote this blog post. (I don't even know if that's a joke.)
I'm not writing this because I want your advice or suggestions. I don't need medical references; I've done mountains of research. I am well informed on this subject and it is not out of the question that is what has got me into this uncomfortable spot.
What I hope in doing this today, I think, is that it might be useful to express what I'm feeling so some other old people who sometimes find themselves in a similar place know others of us are there too.
We are all presented with frightening things as we grow old – some rational, some not. But we generally don't talk about them out loud, not in a real sense of how it actually feels when we are alone in the dark with these thoughts.
Writing this brought to mind a delightful quotation from the recent book, Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties by Patricia Marx, a long-time writer for The New Yorker and Saturday Night Live:
"Indeed, sometimes, when I look for my glasses while wearing my glasses, I think, 'My, my, it's going to be a very smooth transition to dementia.'”