By Marcia Epstein
I haven’t put my shoes in the freezer or my keys in my underwear drawer. Not anything like that, and hopefully it will never happen. But my memory problems are beginning to scare me.
Thank heavens for my women’s group at the JCC. We are all having similar problems and we are all kind of freaking out. It’s not just walking into a room and forgetting why. It’s not just starting a sentence and forgetting what we were going to say. It’s not even just forgetting names and where we’ve put things.
It’s things like the total blank-faced look we get when something happens that we can’t explain. I remember getting the envelope for my granddaughter’s Bat Mitvah reminder because it was misspelled on the label, but I cannot remember the invitation inside. I asked my daughter why I hadn’t gotten the reminder and she told me that I had. She reminded me that I had mentioned the odd envelope, and I did remember that. But the contents…no way, not even today. Now that’s scary.
And where in the world could that maroon sheet and pillowcase set have gone? I mean come on, maroon. You can’t just misplace a maroon sheet and two pillowcases. Except that I did. Gone, and never found.
I have sticky pads to write down things I have to do. I have even gotten out of the shower to write a note to myself, because I know that I will not remember if I don’t do it right away. I put the reminder on my kitchen table, several at once if needed. A notebook itself wouldn’t work; I might forgot to look at it. Several of my friends have done that. They’ve also done things such as forgetting they had tickets to a play, forgetting to meet a friend and forgetting whether or not they’ve taken their medications.
We all have complex systems for medications, but even so, I’ve forgotten within a half hour whether or not I took something. I’m now learning to upgrade my complex system so that I can’t forget, such as elaborate pill boxes with detailed labeling.
My women’s group has made a pact never to leave the kitchen while something is boiling on the stove. We have had several incidents of burnt pots and near fires.
There are age-related reasons for memory problems in the older population. There are physiological changes in the brain as we age. There is even a condition called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), in which the symptoms are short of dementia but worse than in normal aging. People are able to live a normal life, but family and friends may notice memory lapses such as forgetting important events, conversations and appointments. Some people with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s, but many do not.
However, the majority of seniors with memory problems do not have an illness, though some of the things that occur can be darn frightening.
We’re all afraid of the illnesses of old age: cancer, stroke, heart disease. But I think that the worst fear I hear about is Alzheimer’s Disease. The total loss of the self we were is terrifying, and the process of first suspecting it and then having it confirmed must be indescribable. Who are we if not ourselves? And yet all of us have seen this happen in friends, relative and loved ones.
‘Hopefully, my friends and I are just experiencing the normal effects of the aging brain, though thank heavens we have each other to share these incidents and attendant fears with. It’s happening to all of us in the group, and we range from our late 60’s to over 90. We wonder: where did those gloves go? I know I bought onions, but where are they? How could I forget my cousin’s birthday? But at least we still know what gloves are, and what onions are used for. And we keep on hoping it stays that way.
Wait…..did I take that cholesterol pill today? And where is that darn pill box?