Revisited: Don’t forget to get Alzheimer’s

Like many people approaching late middle-age, I’m starting to have some concerns about my memory. I’m not sure where on the continuum from a few “senior moments” to full-blown Alzheimer’s I might be, and even if a neurologist could pinpoint it, I wouldn’t be able to remember what he said.

It’s that short-term memory that I seem to be having the most trouble with these days. I guess this is something everyone struggles with to an extent; even the twenty-ish cashier who I just paid for my tea had notes scribbled all over the back of her hands, including a scrawl that looked suspiciously like “kill.” (You’d think a chore that life-altering would tend to stick with you, but maybe she’s got a lot of holiday-related obligations – parties, cards, gifts for the nephews, etc. — on her mind.)

Now that I think of it though, my mid-term memory is also suffering. I recently made a list of all the places we’ve gone on vacations over the years so I wouldn’t forget the tremendous time we had in Montreal or that great walk along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. My wife would suggest that if these events were so memorable, then I’d remember them, and I suppose she has a point. But I did shoot photographs and took video on both of these trips, so why should I have to waste cranial storage space when I can just as easily root around in the dusty bags stashed in the top of the coat closet to recall such precious times?

What tends to be most bothersome to family members, and I’ve heard this is a symptom I share with the most desperately neuron-deficient, is that my long-term memory remains quite good. The problem is that it’s not important lifetime milestones like weddings and births that I remember with such clarity. I do vaguely recollect that my wife had some sort of child a while back, and I’m pretty sure it was a boy because that’s what we have walking around the house now 17 years later. But the details of that event are roughly equivalent to my recall of the ’63 Dodgers and the record-setting 104 steals made by Maury Wills on their way to the World Series. The emergence of a living being who represents my own flesh and blood from the womb of my beloved life partner is a truly magical experience but, c’mon… 104 stolen bases in one season?

What worries me is that it’s neither long- nor medium-term memory that allows you to get through the day in some sort of organized, survivable fashion. It’s the immediate stuff that’s most important to daily life. I can’t imagine arriving at the airport having forgotten my passport and yet getting a reprieve from the screeners because I can remember the actress who played Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Irene Ryan).

For just one example, with this being the Christmas season, I am expected to remember hints dropped by loved ones about the type of gifts that would be most dear to them. I barely even realize that it’s the most wonderful time of year until we’ve run out of Thanksgiving leftovers, and that still hasn’t happened yet. My wife and son already have an estimated four presents either in-hand or on-order for me, and I’ve yet to visit a single retail website (unless you can count ESPN.com). I think Beth said she wants an iPod or socks or tea, or something in that general area. But these items come in such a huge variety of options that it’s very challenging to pick out exactly the correct item. Beth has kindly promised to get me to the website of choice this weekend and position the cursor directly on the gift she wants, then turn away as I click so that there’ll be at least some element of surprise.

It’s exactly this kind of immediacy that enables me to function with some measure of decency. I’ve borrowed a term from modern manufacturing techniques to give credibility to the technique I’ve developed. Called “Just in Time” – for the idea that you don’t build something until right before someone wants it – I want to learn what I need to know just before I need to know it. Don’t tell me several weeks in advance that my mom’s birthday is coming up. I need to know at the very last minute so I can spend three times the necessary amount on rush postage and still be two days late.

Aside from occasions like gift-giving and breaking the heart of my dear mother, the other major handicap I’m learning to live with has to do with following directions to get from one location to another. Visiting my son’s high school the other day, I asked at the main office to be directed to a particular room number. I was told go out this door, turn right, go down the hall and through the double doors, walk across the open area to building E and take the first hall to the right all the way to the end. I moved my head up and down and put the most understanding look I could summon on my face as the sounds being made by the secretary in front of me went whizzing by my head. It was at this point that I wished I’d put a Garmin GPS on my Christmas gift list.

There is one major benefit to a severely deficient memory, and that comes while watching television. I can’t tell a first-run TV show from a rerun even if it stars Bernie Mac, Heath Ledger and Pope John Paul II. I can blissfully sit through every episode of “Seinfeld” or “The Office” that I’ve ever seen and enjoy the jokes like I’m hearing them for the first time. This annoys my wife to no end, since she has the memory of a wolverine and can recite dialog from foreign films she hasn’t seen for years, and do it in French. Plot twists already known to millions hit me out of left field, like an errant throw from Orlando Cepeda trying to gun down the speedy Wills on his record-breaking dash for third base.

I’m just hoping to hang on till retirement, when I can while away my remaining days, remembering to drool now and then but not much else.

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2 Responses to “Revisited: Don’t forget to get Alzheimer’s”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    I am distressingly familiar with this scenario. On Schott’s Vocab (a fabulous column in the NY Times opinion section), Schott recently asked for words people use when that word you want is on the tip of your tongue but cannot be retrieved. My favorite recent one, however, is “Mangled Proverbs” (“All roads gather no moss. A rolling stone leads to Rome”.) My favorite, however is “The squeaky wheel gets the good intentions. The road to hell is paved with grease”.
    http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/weekend-competition-all-roads-gather-no-moss/

  2. Rocky Humbert Says:

    How did I end up at this blog? And how do I get “home?”

    Good thing there’s a little “house” icon on my keyboard.

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