Lately I've been viewing my absent-mindedness through a more sinister lens.
I then spent 10 minutes looking for my reading glasses, which were on top of my head. And by the time I found them and booted up the computer, I kind of forgot what it was I wanted to do. Oh right! Resend the very kind editor a corrected invoice.
Lately, I have been slamming into the brick wall of forgetfulness and wondering if it literally is all in my head.
I understand that forgetfullness can be triggered by a whole host of things and isn’t an exclusive byproduct of aging. But emotionally, I want assurance that I am not losing my mind just because I spent 10 minutes looking for my red SUV in the supermarket parking lot before remembering that I had driven my daughter’s black sedan.
Yes, the ice cream melted before I could find the car, but an even bigger ouch was when the security guard laughingly chalked up the incident to me having a “senior moment.” Anything that close to a possible truth is terrifying.
Dementia, you see, is my boogeyman. I am prepared that aging comes with bunions, knees that can betray you, and a metabolism that slows to a crawl for no apparent reason. But dementia? Does that really have to be part of growing older?
The truth is, dementia strikes pure terror in my heart. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.7 million people in America live with it, with the bulk of them — 60% to 70% — suffering from the form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s. Yes, dementia comes in multiple shapes and forms, and I’m scared of all of them.
I see dementia as a thief of life. It steals our ability to love and be present. It robs us of our dignity, our independence, and ultimately our purpose to exist. It is so insidious that the best anyone’s got in the way of offering comfort is to believe that the dementia sufferer isn’t cognitive of the fact they have dementia.
So every time that I can’t remember whether I took my pills or I need to call my cell phone to see where in the house I left it, I view my absent-mindedness through a more sinister “what if” lens. What if this is an early sign of my brain failing me?
I already make lists up the wazoo. I print out GPS directions and use an app to help me find places. I practice repetition — like always putting my keys in the same place — because I read that muscle memory plays a part in helping us not to misplace things.
Still, I have the occasional trip up. For me, names are memory landmines. I know who people are, I just don’t always remember their names unless I’ve met them repeatedly and maybe not even then.
I use to view those little name tags people wore on their chests at meetings with scorn. Now, when I walk into a room and see chestfuls of them, I am quietly thrilled. I wish we could all wear them all of the time. If we had them at our last neighborhood block party, I wouldn’t have had to call the woman who lives around the corner “the lady who walks the Golden Retriever.” FWIW, I remembered that the dog’s name is Scout.
The good news is, the things I am forgetting don’t actually look like dementia. As a doctor once told me, if you easily get lost driving, well, that’s frustrating and maybe try using GPS. But if you are picking up the car keys and don’t recall what they are used for, yeah, we need to talk.
Now if I could only remember his name.
Ann Brenoff was a staff writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where she won a shared Pulitzer for coverage of the Northridge Earthquake. Most recently, she was a senior writer and columnist for HuffPost based in Los Angeles.