Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Actors' names are the first to go. When does forgetfulness become dementia?

Everywhere I look, even everywhere I'm not looking, I come across tests to assess memory problems with questions like, “Do you often forget the name of someone you’ve just met?” Often? I almost never remember the name of a person I’ve met. I used to remember every name, but it mattered more. There was a chance I’d end up in bed with them. Not to boast, but I can forget the name of someone I’ve met several times, even if I’ve had dinner at their house.

Friends try to be supportive. "Your mind is like a hard drive,” is one thing they say, “and all the bytes have been taken”. If only I could send useless facts to Trash, like Gene Kelly’s address from a job I had in the late 60's. Those are the things that make it impossible for me to retain the name of the movie I saw three days ago or what I read in a previous chapter of a book.

Forgetting is scary. And forgetting a name seems rude. I know the tricks, but there’s no way to meet six new people, associate each of their names with something and repeat the name aloud several times. That's way harder than just remembering a name, which now feels like a crowning achievement, the Iron Man competition for those taking vitamins with the word “silver” in them.

When I admit I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s, everyone tries to reassure me. “If you’re worried about it," is a typical response, “you don’t have it”.

Yet,” I point out. “And it's not a reliable predictor. I was worried I had arthritis and I do!”

My friends and I are at an awkward stage -- too old for happy hour, not ready for early bird dinners. We’re fighters, trying to hold onto our faculties, frantically doing crossword puzzles and Sudoko, Saduko, Tsidoka or whatever that numbers puzzle is called, trying to figure out who the actress was in the movie by the director whose name once would have come to us without a struggle. We work out, take antioxidants and statins, replace caps and hips, avoid cigarettes and trans-fats, some of us are learning Chinese and how to text message on a Blackberry,

We’re still laughing about senior moments, but that’s only because none of us has yet wandered off and been returned home in a patrol car.

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