Tuesday, March 11, 2014
It's Called Something
I was mentioning this to Pam and she gripped my arm. "You too? Sometimes, you think you're the only one."
There isn't a problem when I read the printed word. The problem comes when I write or when I speak. You'll often hear people say, "The word escapes me" when they can't think of that one word which defines what they want to say. For me, it's as if words haven't escaped so much as wandered away. They were here for a long time. I knew them, knew them well. Now, they are nowhere in my lexicon to be found, as if I left the door open and they've gone on a somewhat permanent vacation to who knows where.
Of course, this bothers me. I remember a story about our late president, Ronald Reagan. He'd been living with Alzheimer's for some time now, perhaps 3 years. An old friend, who happened to be a columnist, paid him a visit. They talked. Reagan didn't seem to be less sharp than in the past although he tripped over his memories, but that happens to all of us. As the friend turned to go he asked Reagan how he was getting on. Reagan said he spent his time outside, talking with Nancy and then, gesturing toward a bookshelf overloaded with books, "I spend time with these...these...these..." He paused. The simple word "books" eluded him. His friend said there was a momentary flash of anger as one half of the brain knew that the other half knew the word but wasn't giving it up. Reagan, said, finally, "...trees".
Last week, in my health news feed, there was a story about how Alzheimer's deaths are probably woefully under reported. The estimate is that over 504,000 deaths each year are from Alzheimer's, yet only 80,000 are listed on death certificates as such. The author of the study said we need better reporting of deaths, first of all, and secondly, we need a better understanding of how Alzheimer's causes death.
I take memory tests when I can find reliable ones. I do things, such as play memory games, designed to keep my cognitive skills sharp. There isn't a history of Alzheimer's in my family although a great-great aunt had what we now recognize as dementia. It's not a disease that has a trail through my family. Yet, I'll be chatting with someone and the word or words I need are nowhere to be found. I know exactly what that thing, over there, that one, not the one next to it, but that one, is called, but, for the life of me, I cannot give you its name. I'll type up a blog post, upload it to my blog and then read it. The misspelled words, the awkward sentence construction, the syntax and the grammar in some sentences can be horrid. I think, "How could I have written this? I know better."
Some years ago, I mentioned to my doctor my concerns about memory loss. He asked about my life and gave me a series of tests. I passed with flying colors. "You don't have Alzheimer's," he said. "Your problem is that you're trying to remember too much at once. Slowing down and concentrating on one task at a time is all you need to do. You've lived a long time and you have a lot of memories. Those, too, can override the part of the brain charged with pulling up what you need to remember." That made me feel better for awhile, but lately, I worry. How often is struggling to catch the word I want just a factor of the amount I have stored in my head versus a sign of further problems, a slow trip down to the absence of memory? I can't find an answer to that question. Perhaps it's not something that can be definitively stated. When it happens to me, a get tense. I worry. In a way, I obsess. Then this passes and I'm okay with, "Um..." because I'm with Pam and we finish each others sentences anyway, even if we reach a point where the word doesn't come and the other picks up the thought as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do.
For now, I ask your indulgence if I sweep my hand past the bookshelf and call them trees or stand there with a sour expression on my face because I know the word. I just can't think of it. Trees wasn't completely wrong, either. Books are made from paper which comes from trees. That's in the neighborhood of the right word and just being in the right neighborhood can make all the difference in the world.