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The fact that my Mother had Alzheimer’s when she died niggles at my swiss-cheesy brain sometimes.
I have always said that I have a mind like a steel sieve, especially since that unfortunate head injury on Easter Sunday some 20 years ago. (Only Tug, the best dog in the universe, was there to witness it, and he took my secret to the Rainbow Bridge.) But sometimes, I am more aware of my inability to retain things than at other times. It’s been an interesting adjustment for MKL, who has the memory of an elephant (and elephants have 10 1/2 pound brains with large, multiple-fold temporal lobes). He must be frustrated by the apparent empty space between my ears. He’s a grand storyteller, and often says, “Do you remember when I told you about….” or “I think I shared with you….” My unfortunate response is (way too often) “I don’t remember that!” On the plus side, it means that most things are new over and over again, and for me, that’s okay. But I do hate that it seems like I haven’t been listening to him, because I have. I love love love his voice. And his stories.
While I have grown comfortable with my forgetfulness, my brain is offering up a new twist lately – mistaking words. For example, on a Comcast commercial tonight, they were advertising a “Multilatino” package for those viewers who wish to see more channels in Spanish. I saw that word and read it as “Mutilatinos” – as in a combination of the words “mutilated” and “latinos” – which is awful all by itself.
And here’s another example. In that first paragraph, where I was talking about elephants? I originally wrote “elephone”. And where I wrote elephants? I wrote “elephonats”. It’s corrected now, but seriously….WTF?
This is just the most recent example of something that seems to happen to me all the time.
And while this one is not my fault, it is one of my current favorites.
I prefer my wi-fi to have bacon. Actually, I prefer everything to have bacon.
These days, if I’m going to comment on something, or read it aloud, I always make sure I do a double-take before I say anything. Better safe than stupid. Or with a besocked foot in my mouth. Either way.
This could just be a normal aging thing, like my increasing tendency to look for my sunglasses when they are on my head, or double checking to be sure I’m still wearing earrings – both of which, now that I write that, indicate that perhaps I am just unconsciously checking to be sure that my head is still attached. I’m not ruling that out.
As I am within licking distance of the half-century mark, I wonder if this is more of a problem or a symptom, than a quirk. I’m pretty sure I should start journaling in a more detailed fashion, and doing crossword puzzles. That’s what seemed to keep my Mom’s brain clicking. Not Sudoku, though, because not only do I not know how to pronounce it, it makes me want to shoot everything in sight. Not good.
Of course, I can’t recall any more recent incidents even though they happen often (there’s some irony for you, huh?) Which doesn’t make for as interesting post as if I did remember them. But you get what you get.
So what about you? Are you “of a certain age”? Do you have similar word foibles? Don’t worry, share away…I most likely won’t remember.
When my Mother died, she had her brain autopsied. This is not customary, even in cases of extreme cancer, such as she had. She had been part of a long-term brain study and the last piece of the study for any participant was to agree to have this procedure done upon death. I knew about it on a surface level, but when she died, it was the farthest thing from my mind. Fortunately, E-Bro knew what needed to be done and did it – putting ice packs around and behind her head until the funeral home people came to take her away. I assume that E-Bro then gave them some instructions, but after helping get her into the body bag, I really lost track of everything.
All maudlinity (yes, thanks, it’s my own word) aside, this brain autopsy showed that she had Stage 4 Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s has 7 defined stages; Stage 4 is considered to be mild or early-stage. In this stage, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website, symptoms may include:
- Forgetfulness of recent events
- Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic — for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s (hmm, could I do that now?)
- Greater difficulty performing complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills or managing finances
- Forgetfulness about one’s own personal history
- Becoming moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
My Mother didn’t really have any of these. A couple of months before she died, we noticed a few things – she would forget what color piece she was in Parcheesi or something like that, but we’d laugh about it. We both figured it was just a matter of normal aging. She lived for three months after her massive cancer diagnosis, and it wasn’t really until the last few weeks that I noticed something odd. I remember us discussing if perhaps the cancer had spread to her brain. We both considered it a possibility, but decided there was no point in finding out. It didn’t matter.
In hindsight, I can see that all of things we laughed at and thought might be brain cancer were symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Due to her excellent mental hygiene, we never even considered it. My Mother was an insatiable reader and never failed to do the crossword puzzles in every paper. She was one of those people who could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. She also kept a journal every day for decades. She noted conversations she had, what she did, what we kids did, what she ate, thoughts, appointments. She made a point of remembering everything. She was always learning, keeping her brain fresh. This is one of the things I’ve heard – that keeping your brain awake and buzzing keeps things like Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay. I hope that’s true – I wonder what the rate of Alzheimer’s is among writers?
Well, as you’d imagine, my Mother’s diagnosis is a concern for me. I had a mild closed-head injury many years ago, and after that, I went through a long period of forgetfulness, and an occasional inability to remember words. I would look for a word in my head and it was like someone had literally erased the word from the blackboard on which my brain kept it written. That improved over time, but I’ve noticed myself being more and more forgetful over the last two years. I am assuming that it is stress – the same thing that’s made me put on weight and get depressed. But with my Mother’s diagnosis, as I say, I wonder.
I’m not concerned enough to get myself tested for the Alzheimer’s gene. I need to be doing all the same things to keep my brain sparking, regardless of whether I have the gene or not. I would hope no one would make a decision to be or not be with me based on my having the gene. So there’s really no point. Is there?
The thing that disturbs me the most about the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s is the pain it causes the people you love. I can’t imagine not being able to remember Kelsea. What would that feel like for her? We’ve actually talked about this, and I’ve told her that if it ever happens to me, to just remember that I’m in there somewhere, knowing and loving her until (and past) my last breath.
I’ve recently become fond of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”. One of the characters on the show is in a similar position, although her Mother’s Alzheimer’s was much more severe than my Mother’s was (and she’s fictional). But in a scene the other night, when she was searching her bag for the house keys that were in her hand, I was reminded of myself.
And I felt a light chill.
This poem is in honor of Kelsea’s friend Ed at the Balfour Memory Care Center.
Today’s guest poet – Billy Collins.
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing
village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.