Monday, September 6, 2010

Now What Was I Looking For?

I took my dad to the auto body shop the other day. They have finally decided to sell their car which needs a repair before the transaction is finished. Dad handled the entire transaction/discussion and before we left, the shop-owner asked for his phone number. Dad rattled off the first 8 numbers without a problem, the last two were lost somewhere in the nether-land.

I stood there waiting for him to remember for what seemed like ten minutes, and then finally gave him the info. Dad doesn’t seem to suffer from memory loss, unlike my mother. Before I went away I had told my folks that we would go out to lunch. I told mom the night before and called again just before I left the house to pick them up. On the way to their home, I got a call from my sister telling me that mom was in the middle of making tuna sandwiches. Dad can rattle on telling stories from his childhood and working years. He also seems to be pretty aware of immediate things like doctor’s appointments and what day it is.

Two days after our trip to the auto body shop I was getting ready to go out and was packing a bag. I walked into the kitchen, wandered around for a minute with no idea what I was doing there. I left the house realizing after I got out to the street that I forgot to grab the cash that was sitting on the table.

I don’t believe any of our family members suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s. We are fortunate that way. But isn’t that what we first think about when we can’t remember the right words to explain ourselves or someone’s name? I’ve been thinking about this for years, memory loss. It seems like it has been ages since I started to forget names of actors and the words I needed to finish a sentence. I originally blamed it on menopause, now I blame it on chemo-brain (a legitimate side-effect of chemo causing memory lapses, problems with concentration, etc.).

The reality is our memory actually starts to fade in our 20’s and progresses in our late 30’s and early 40’s according to an article by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin published in the New York Sunday Times Magazine (12/3/2004). Things like alcohol, diseases, head injury, stress, and lack of sleep can add to memory loss. According to the article, “middle-aged forgetting follows a pattern: people's names go first, because they are word symbols with no cues attached. Then there are difficulties with word retrieval. Instead of the phrase you want, you get what James Reason, a psychologist at the University of Manchester, in Britain, called ''the ugly sisters'' -- similar-sounding but frustratingly incorrect combinations of syllables.” I can really relate to this!

It appears that as we get older, prospective memory and working memory become more difficult. Prospective memory is remembering to perform some action in the distant future, like picking up something on the way home. Working memory gives us the ability to “manage several ideas or intentions at the same time.” No more multi-tasking!

There is a theory that when we get into our 60’s or so, forgetfulness troubles us less – I guess we learn to adapt or our lives become less complicated. But I know my mother (and us kids) is very troubled by her memory loss. Fortunately, they are working on a lot of drugs to help combat the problem, and many have proven quite effective – although they also have side effects. All in all, I am relieved to find that what I suffer from is so common. Hopefully by working on the puzzles in the newspaper and physical exercise will help lessen the severity of memory loss. At least I know I am not alone.

Since I got back from Maine, I have had energy and have actually been productive. I guess I am getting used to Thierry being gone. He actually is on his way home having survived the non-event hurricane. Friends will join him this Friday for the overnight portion of his trip south. It has been a good week, and my weeks will be even better when Thierry gets home!

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