Monday, June 24

Staying calm when there’s a blip in your memory

Dealing with a hole in my memory (Senior News Daily editorial staff)

Like so many of my friends and contemporaries, I’ve begun to encounter those awkward moments when memory fails.  The incidents happen occasionally and although bothersome, they are not occurring with a frequency that would elevate my concern. 

Still, I’m a bit uneasy about what might lie ahead. As I’m guessing anyone my age would be.  So here’s how I deal with a lapse in memory when it unexpectedly pops up. 

It begins with a simple sentence, perhaps a descriptive phrase in the course of a casual conversation.  I might be heading off to the grocery store with my wife, Arlene, meaning to simply add an item to the shopping list, as in “Let’s get some of those…” and suddenly, there’s a hole in my recall. 

I try again, “You know, those…” and there’s nothing; blank; no inventory of content to draw upon; just a gap; no matter how hard I struggle to find the word, nothing comes to mind. 

This is where I intervene so as not to panic and make things worse.  I understand that swimming in emptiness is scary. I’m searching for the word that describes an item on our shopping list and I have no reference point whatsoever.  The danger is to feel as if I’m desperately flailing in a vacuum; drowning in this hole of emptiness.  The antidote is to stay connected to the present, to be cognizant. 

“Those what?” Arlene asks, “What are you talking about?” 

For the moment I don’t know the answer!  But I remind myself, it’s not as if I am falling through space in a scene from that old Rod Serling television show, The Twilight Zone. I’m aware; I know where I am, and what’s happening.

It’s important to stay engaged.  I reach out to Arlene, “You know, those seeds that our granddaughter likes to eat.”  But Arlene doesn’t fathom; she has no idea of what I’m talking about. It’s frustrating, but I have to stay in the moment and keep up a normal dialogue. 

I try to visualize what I can’t articulate.  My brain begins to construct a bridge across the abyss.  “We bought them at Mariano’s.  They come in a deli carton with saran wrap across the top.  They’re red and kind of gooey.  We buy them for Madelyn; she loves them.”

“They’re seeds?” Arlene asks. 

“Yeah, from some kind of fruit,” I grope for a description that eludes me.  But the bridge across the hole has lengthened and expanded, and finally Arlene crosses over.

“You mean pomegranate seeds?” she takes a stab at the answer.

“Yes, pomegranate seeds,” I shake my head in relief.  The hole in my brain is repaired.

Now, when similar situations arise, we accept the frustrating lapse in memory as a common symptom of aging.  If one of us is groping for a lost word, we might fill in the blank with a mischievous mention of “pomegranate seeds,” a good-natured acknowledgement of reality rather than a pessimistic forecast of impending dementia.

Loss of memory is a serious matter.  But our fear of the disease may be exaggerated.  The national statistic of its incidence with serious symptoms is only three percent of those aged 65 to 74.