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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

"Losing It"

If you go to the refrigerator and forget why you were there--not a big deal. But if you make the same trip and forget what a refrigerator is . . . well, then there might be a problem.

Like most women (and men) in their seventies, I've headed to the frig, the bathroom, my office, and any number of other locales and, once there, hadn't a clue as to why. What was I looking for? Butter? Eyebrow tweezers? A book contract?

Apparently, not much.

It's no secret that, as we age, our memory doesn't hold up.

3 causes of age-related memory loss:

The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, often deteriorates with age.

Hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth also decline with age.

Older people often experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.

Alrighty, then. Sounds ominous. Still, we're in this together; a sense of humor goes a long way.

But there was nothing funny about my total lack of recall the other week in bookclub. I'd read the book--finished it the night before--and was anxious to add my opinions to the conversation. Maybe I was tired. Maybe the medication I'd been taking for early-morning headaches had scrambled my brain. Maybe the stress of showing signs of REM behavior disorder--I'd done a bit of kicking and talking out loud in my sleep--worried me more than I'd thought. Whatever the reasons, the synapsis in my brain didn't fire. No sooner had an idea crossed my mind then it disappeared. I couldn't remember diddly squat.

I cried on the way home. Was this it? Had I inherited the dementia gene from my mother? She hadn't been diagnosed until almost ninety. Still, maybe my number had come up much earlier. Maybe this was the beginning of the end.

I whined. I spent hours googling causes of dementia. I took online memory tests. I scoured my family's genealogical chart for other relatives who may have struggled with severe memory loss. I tested myself every five minutes. Could I name all of the teams in the National Football League? (I got most of them.) State capitals? (I wasn't up to speed, but I'd struggled in geography class back in sixth grade.) What about my activities the day before? I drove myself (and my husband) crazy.

It's one thing to live with nagging backaches or insomnia or a bum knee. But as I discovered, it's quite another challenge when your mind goes blank--I mean, really blank. Empty.

I panicked, certain that, before long, I wouldn't be able to follow conversations, to remember the Spanish I'd been studying, or to pick up the choreography in a dance class. After my long-term insurance ran out, I'd be warehoused in one of those senior citizen facilities where people sit and stare.

I called my sister for advice. She's been handed a slew of problems like macular degeneration and Lyme's Disease. Still, she carries on--bravely and uncomplaining.

I've learned, she said, that putting physical (mental) problems front and center only exacerbates things. You obsess, feel sorry for yourself, and make things worse. You can't let these curve balls dominate your life. You forge ahead, recognize that you'll never be the unblemished person you used to be.

I felt better, already.

Then the lights came back on. The synapsis in my brain began to fire on all cylinders. I'm sure that starting to meditate again helped. Cutting back on my migraine medication helped. Refusing to take other people's problems as my own helped. Refusing to make a big deal over this REM Behavior Disorder thing helped. (If I didn't share a bed, I'd never have known that I acted up during sleep every once in a while.)

Last night was Thanksgiving. I enjoyed spending time with my husband, son, and friends. Most of all, I am thankful that today, I remember all the goings-on--even the entire chocolate brownie I ate, along with pumpkin and pecan pie.


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