News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Monitoring memory

Over the years, I have often said if I were to lose one of my abilities as I age, I hope it isn’t my mind. I have always really enjoyed using my mental capacity to create, write, imagine, problem solve, make connections, learn, teach, observe, and remember.

My long-time school friends can’t believe I remember the first and last names of everyone in our first grade class as well as all eight of my grade school teachers.

In 2019, when I slammed my head into the asphalt during a bad fall, I was concerned I might have done some permanent damage to my brain. A full battery of neuropsych tests dismissed that worry. However, several months later I began to experience some post-concussion symptoms that lingered for well over a year. Ever since then, my balance hasn’t been the same, but is that just a sign of aging and not enough physical exercise? Hopefully so.

I laugh with my friends when it takes three of us to remember someone’s name – “I think it starts with S” – or the details of an event, or the movie we saw last week.

I am familiar with the different kinds of dementia from my work with elders, a population with which I particularly enjoy working. There is much to learn from their wisdom, lack of pretense, and life stories. Driving for the Sisters rideshare program STARS is such a joy. I usually correct myself when I tell someone that I drive “old people” to medical appointments because I AM an “old people.” In fact, some are younger than me.

Keeping my mind active and engaged has been and is one of my main goals. Writing for The Nugget requires interacting with many people, conducting research on a subject with which I am not familiar, creating and organizing a story, and meeting deadlines. While writing a story, I sometimes can’t recall the word I want to use. I used to fret over that lapse. Now I just leave a blank, trusting the word will come to me as I type the story. I’ve asked my editor, Jim, to let me know if my stories start to lack coherence. Editor’s note: She’s doing fine.

In the last months, I have been noticing more subtle changes in my short-term memory, word recall, organizational ability around the house, and reduced ability to multi-task. Some changes I can’t even identify – just that I am not functioning as smoothly as in the past. And I get impatient with myself when something doesn’t work as planned.

Several weeks ago, I attended the mini-McGinty Conference with the Alzheimer’s Association of Oregon held at Sisters Community Church. Seventy-five of us (there were only 50 in Bend) gathered to hear enlightening presentations about dementia and Alzheimer’s – signs and symptoms, probable causes and treatments, and preparing for the end of life, including caregiving, finances, medical options, wills/trusts, and advance directives/POLST forms. I came away better informed, and with a preliminary plan for addressing my concerns.

Dementia is a syndrome with a collection of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is a continuum from being asymptomatic to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s, to full-blown Alzheimer’s. MCI not due to Alzheimer’s can be caused by any number of factors, some of which can be altered like certain medications or vascular disease.

Alzheimer’s is caused by beta-amyloid deposits and tangles in the brain caused by intracellular deposits of tau. Non-modifiable risk factors include age, genetics, race/ethnicity, and sex/gender. Modifiable risk factors include substance use, education, traumatic brain injury, physical activity, cardiovascular health, sleep, diet, and cognitive/social engagement. I am working on those I can do something about. I have always been a good advocate for myself with the medical community, but I will sharpen my game and ask more questions.

Being a couple of weeks away from my 80th birthday, I am keenly aware that the end is coming – not in a maudlin way but being totally realistic. I will do those things that can enhance the quality of life I have left. Today I will do those things I’ve “always wanted” to do or see, and let those I love know it often, because I never know when the last time might be.

I am not afraid to talk about these things. I am asking those of you who know me, tell me if you notice different behaviors, my confusion, uncharacteristic plans or decisions, or changes in my personality. The benefit of early detection is that a diagnosis can be determined, and certain conditions can be ruled in or out, followed by appropriate action or treatment.


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