As I mentioned recently, I just finished the excellent novel, “Still Alice” which is told from the perspective of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. One facet of the book that seemed very realistic and frightening to me is how the character gets lost on her travels through her neighborhood. I love to walk around my neighborhood (the character in the book loves to run or ride her bicycle). I have lived in my neighborhood since 1997, and like to think I know it like the back of my hand.
But an experience last week gave me just the tiniest insight into how disconcerting feeling lost amidst the familiar can be.
I was going to a dentist appointment, and my dentist had moved his office to a condo building just off the park that is in the center of my neighborhood. I made a note of the new address, and then made an assumption of where I thought it was located. Ironically, I was actually reflecting on “Still Alice” as I was walking to my appointment!
So I reached the corner where I thought the office would be, and no condo building. Then I realized that I was probably a couple of blocks off. But in my mind, I could not picture where this condo building would be along the street that matched the address. I started walking hurriedly, not wanting to be late. A car honked, and a co-worker of mine shouted out my name and waved to me, distracting me further. I was about halfway down the street and thought for sure that there was no condo building at the end of the street. But there had to be! It was hard to see the house numbers so I couldn’t use that as my gauge. I finally broke out Google Maps on my phone but the sun was shining bright and it was hard to follow the arrow to see if I was walking in the right direction.
I was reaching a mild panic at this point, and also felt embarrassed. How could I be lost in my own neighborhood?
Suddenly, like magic, the condo building appeared. It is newish, and I don’t walk down this street very often, but as it turned out, I went out of my way to get to it because of my careless planning. My heart was pounding a bit as I stepped into the dentist’s office, with a few minutes to spare.
The experience gave me a better understanding of disorientation, a common symptom of Alzheimer’s. It also reminded me how often we put ourselves on auto-pilot as we go about running errands and performing daily tasks. We take so much for granted. Alzheimer’s shows us how much we have to lose when our brain function falters.