Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer

Two weeks ago I paid good money to find out what I have suspected for awhile. I am no longer the sharpest knife in the drawer.

In the last few years I've been having increasing memory loss. I've talked to other women my age who say they have the same problem.  I think mine is worse.

It's like my brain is short circuiting. I can't find my keys, cell phone, cheaters, sunglasses, tennis shoes and slippers. People's names?  Forget about it.

Then there's that little piece of paper my husband told me he needs to keep.  I panic a week later when he can't find it and accuses me of throwing it away. I dig through the trash can in the garage and it's in a garbage bag amidst coffee grounds and egg shells.

And I misplace my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Which, by the way, is just one more reason not to go to Wal-Mart. I avoid it at all costs. It smells like cheap plastic toys and cardboard. I always end up spending $173 for the can of hairspray I come in for and which I forget to put in my cart. I feel sorry for the checkout clerks. Those poor souls get minimum wage and deal with crabby, rude people who see them as the last obstacle in their getting home.

Anyway. What was I saying?  I lost my train of thought. Which brings me to why I got tested for cognitive impairment.

I can attribute most of my forgetfulness to simple inattention. It happens. But losing what I am saying mid-sentence really bothers me. This happened some when I was younger. But eventually I'd remember, even if it was a few hours later. Not now. I've come to accept that my memory occasionally leaves the building like Elvis, never to return.

A few months back I read Still Alice which is the story of a woman who is a Harvard professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52--my age exactly. It makes me wonder.

My friend, DeAnn, works for a place that helps people increase cognitive skills. She works with kids who have ADHD and learning or relational problems. She also helps adults like me whose memory has taken a hike and can't find its way home.

Awhile back when I joke with her about having early onset, she doesn't laugh.  She says if I am really concerned about it, she has a coupon I can use to get tested at her school. I wasn't too keen on the idea at first. 

But then something happened at my women's Bible study that prompted me to reconsider. We were having our discussion time, and I opened my mouth to share what I'm sure was some profound nugget of wisdom. I said, "I think..."  I stopped. I didn't have a clue as to what I was going to say.  Everyone looks at me quizzically and waits. Nervously I make a joke that this is what happens when you get old.

I call DeAnn to make an appointment to get my brain tortured. I go to the school, where her boss gives me the hour-long test. It's like taking your ACTs but involves playing games, doing puzzles and reciting a series of numbers backwards. It wasn't fun, and I began to whimper halfway through it.

At the end of the test, I get my scores. In high school I wasn't valedictorian or anything, but I think I was smarter than the average bear. That has changed.

The results are displayed on a percentile chart compared with people my age. There are nine categories which test, among other things, memory and processing speed.  I score highest on Logic and Reasoning. I am in the top 75% of something called Word Attack (I guess I have a good grasp on word pronunciation). I don't score great on any of the others. But I am disturbingly low on Working Memory. The bar is scraping the bottom of the chart. 

I try to be philosophical about my results. After all, somebody has to be last. I figure I'm taking one for the team, but I'm blinking back tears.

The woman doesn't make light of my scores. No sense of humor. Instead she explains how memory and retention can be improved through training. I ask if I'm getting Alzheimer's. She said she doesn't think so. She says it's normal to misplace keys. It only becomes problematic when you can no longer remember what to do with the keys.

She explains the program. The personal intensive training sessions are designed to work your brain to exhaustion so that it has to create new pathways of learning (or until it cries Uncle). She shares success stories of adults who have had remarkable improvement with their memory. Even people who are super smart can increase their cognitive ability. One of their students has an extremely high IQ but wants to have sharper skills as she goes through med school.

At this point, I'd be happy to be sharp enough to slice a piece of bread.  I ask to see prices. 

DeAnn is encouraging me to do the training. I'll be able to improve my memory and recall. But the price is steep, and I don't like torturing my brain. It hurts. 

Meanwhile, I've bought an industrial pack of Post-Its to leave myself notes around the house. I'm doing Sudoku. I'm also playing board games with my 78-year-old mother. So far I haven't beat her in Scrabble once. True, she has been playing her whole life while I've just started. But still.  She's 78 and I'm 52. No fair.

I also have made an appointment with my doctor to find out if there is some kind of underlying cause behind my memory loss. Like maybe my medications are slowly frying brain cells.  

Or, maybe I'll find out I'm just a normal 50+ woman who has a lot on her mind and sometimes misplaces her car keys. But when I don't remember what the keys are for, I'm calling DeAnn to sign me up.

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