Tag Archives: memory

A moment of feeling lost

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.

blank street sign

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.

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“Tip of tongue” moments may be harmless

Good news for my mom and other seniors who have their fair share of “it’s on the tip of my tongue” moments. Apparently, the frustrating condition does not appear to be a symptom of dementia, according to the results of a recent study. The study involved over 700 subjects and while older people struggled more with these “tip of tongue” moments, the study concluded that there was no link between these temporary memory glitches and dementia.

remember

We all have those moments where we try our darndest to think of something but it remains just out our reach of memory. It’s frustrating, but as we get older, those moments sometimes are more frequent. My mom is an interesting case because she has always had this way of going off on several different tangents and forgetting what the original point was. It’s frustrating for her, and for me. 🙂

But Mom worries every time she struggles to remember something that she is exhibiting the early signs of dementia. After losing Dad and a sister to Alzheimer’s, it’s an understandable fear. As I march towards 40, early-onset Alzheimer’s is on my mind.

It’s a relief to know that these slips of memory are not something that we should worry about too much. We have enough to worry about as it is!

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Memories that don’t fade

I spent the whole day with Mom at the hospital. We talked a lot about Dad.

Mom has been through so much herself recently, and her memory is spotty, but she has not forgotten Dad’s last day on this earth.

It is interesting to see what the mind chooses to remember. In addition to her crystal clear memory of Dad’s death, she also remembered a bag of walnuts, double-bagged, that she had at home.

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Memory takes a hit with illness

With Dad, he was already in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s when he developed gallstones and had to have major surgery. It was hard to tell if his mental state suffered from the anesthesia and slow recovery period. His “new normal” mental state was already compromised.

With Mom, she was showing a few signs of mental decline, but now it’s hard to know whether it was related to the cancer creeping up on her or actually the beginnings of dementia. Her mental state actually has improved quite a bit, I’d say she’s 80 percent there. She does complain about holes in her memory, especially during the time when she became so ill and through the surgery period when she was in the hospital.

I get an update today on when she will be released home. She wants to go, but her memory of home is fuzzy now. Hopefully, all of the familiar items will bring her comfort once she’s settled back into her “new normal” of a life with a colostomy bag.

And perhaps those glitches in her memory are a protective mechanism. There’s a lot in the last two months that I would like to forget! Maybe Mom is better off with the cloudy memory for now.

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My dad, the rubber band man

There was a year or so where dad was still able to run errands on his own. This was sometime between the 2008 photo where his eyes began to look vacant and the burrito incident.

Mom would send dad to the post office to mail letters, usually a bunch of bills. The post office was not very far from their home. When she saw how forgetful he was getting, she started putting rubber bands around the letters. She’d snap two or three red, brown or green rubber bands around the envelopes, just as much to keep the letters together as to keep dad together enough to complete the task. All he had to do was place them in the outgoing mail box at the post office. It was a task he had done hundreds of times in the past flawlessly. Now it required a plan, a course of action.

Mom would tell my dad to take the rubber bands off the letters just before he dropped them in the mailbox. Then he was to wear the rubber bands on his wrist like bracelets until he came home. That was the sign that he had completely the task successfully.

And it worked for a stretch of several months or so. (At least, as far as we know, none of the bill payments were reported lost.) Dad would hold up his arms when he arrived home. Mom would peel the thin bands off his bony wrists, kiss him and tell him job well done.

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