As a Senior Move Manager, I have taken courses on how memory changes over time, so I know that short term memory loss increases as we age, and brain processing speed slows down. This part of aging is referred to as normal age-related memory loss. I know that some people experience more than normal age-related memory loss, and this is referred to as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. Both people with normal age-related memory loss and people with MCI can live independent, meaningful lives. I also know that 5 million people in the US, and 50% of people above 85, have some degree of dementia. Does finding my purse in the freezer mean that I will become one of them?
Dementia is more than memory loss alone. It is also characterized by problems with judgment, language, abstract thinking, and it interferes with daily and social functioning. So now I am doing what many people above a certain age do when they forget something or notice cognitive changes. I am asking myself if finding my purse in the freezer is a sign of something serious.
Do I forget things like people’s names, where I placed my keys or where I parked? Yes, but I have always done this. Although aggravating, this is common for me and for most people as they age, so I chalk this up to normal age-related memory loss and make a silent promise to write down where I parked and focus more on putting my keys in the same location.
Another warning sign of dementia is difficulty performing familiar tasks. I need to be retaught the rules of cribbage every time I play, but I have always been card-challenged. Other examples do not come to mind, so I cross this symptom off my list as well.
I check to see if I am disoriented about time and place. Do I forget how I got somewhere or how to get home from familiar places? Since I have gotten a GPS, I don’t need to focus on where I am going; the GPS does it for me. I haven’t noticed any changes in this area, however, so I decide I am good here as well.
Do I have poor or decreased judgment, like wearing heavy clothes on a warm day? Nothing jumps out as worrisome, so I move on to the next symptom.
Do I have trouble with abstract thinking, like forgetting how to balance a checkbook? I use Quicken to balance my checkbook, and I remember how to use the software each month. I decide this is not a problem area either.
Do I put things in unusual places, like a purse in a freezer? Ooops. I need to delve into this one a little further. I have a tiny purse, just big enough for my cell phone, cash and credit cards. It is black, of course, and hard to find when it is misplaced, which is often. But how did it get in the freezer? I consider my habits. While there is no reason the purse doesn’t stay on my shoulder, it seems I often place it in whatever I am carrying into the house… like a bag of bagels, for example, which is where I eventually found it when we defrosted the freezer. I decide to mull this over as I read the paper, and find my replacement purse, equally tiny, in the plastic bag next to the paper. I conclude that given my habits, a purse in the freezer, although bizarre even for me, is understandable.
Then I recall that six months ago, I found orange juice in the cabinet next to the refrigerator –another unusual location. Once again, I do a self-check. Since the cabinet is immediately next to the refrigerator, I decide I was probably multi-tasking and got distracted.
I think I am safe, for the time being. But I realize that I have crossed some threshold, after which actions that were laughed off decades ago, are now taken seriously. A worry lingers in the back of my mind each time I notice a change or something out of the ordinary. I’m OK with that. I’d rather be informed and worried, than unaware and untroubled.
I am glad to have my old purse back, and I am happy to report that 6 months of being frozen appears not to affect credit cards or cash. Will I experience other signs of normal age-related memory loss? I hope so, for decades to come.
To learn more about cognitive changes as we age, visit eSMMART.com and look at two courses: Memory and Forgettery, Parts 1 and 2.