A long-delayed visit to the Memory Clinic the other day, the second follow-up visit since the diagnosis back in the summer of 2016. Due to scheduling conflicts, I’m overdue for another cognitive assessment and check-in. I ask the friendly psychometrist if the test will be the same as the last time. She just gives me an inscrutable smile and says, “Partly," as she leads me into her office. A former mediator myself, I admire her skills at acting neutral and generally keeping her cool as she guides me through the bizarre world of her test.
The first question sets the stage: "I am going to give you three words for you to remember and then say back to me."
OK, pretty straightforward….
[a simple word I still don’t remember]
Just as soon as she gives me the words, she looks at me to repeat them. Boy, this is going to be easy….until I start to try. AlI I can come up with is Board -- I was concentrating and everything. I even did a little mnemonic with Board and Flag, thinking of the game, Capture the Flag. I guess I thought of it a little too hard because I completely forgot the third word -- as well as Flag.
Trainwreck of the brain.
Just like blanking out on finding $6.41 at the store.
And this was just the first word!
At this rate, it will be a long afternoon. It wasn’t, though. A lot of word questions followed, which I did well on, but no clocks to draw, which was too bad because I can whip out a nice clock now in under a minute in whatever style you choose: Roman Numerals, regular numerals, no numerals. Give me just a little extra time, and I bet I could produce a fair Grandfather's model. With a similar amount of practice, I’ve now become a whiz at making change, probably at least as good as I was in third grade.
My memory lapses now are unpredictable and unexpected and embarrassing. In the meantime, I can only guess or imagine the next to go:
*My phone number
*My zip code
*My cat’s name
*When to change the oil
Back at the Memory Clinic, I am scheduled to meet wit Dr. P to discuss my “Progress” with dementia, or more accurately, dementia’s Progress with me. As I pass the psychometrist’s office, I notice Dr. P in there. I ask if he has the results of the test. “Oh, yes. I have your results,” he lets me know with a smile. Not (the results, but my results). I know intuitively how much I have slipped since my last visit. I’m forgetting the names of some things and some people, and much as I love reading, my comprehension is spottier than it was. Don’t even think about asking me to do simple math! I’m more easily confused by instructions.
On the test I couldn’t remember today’s date (oops, I should have practiced!). I started with the year because I was pretty clear on that, but when I got to the number I was off by two. Counting backward from 100 by 7’s was almost too hard, and when I got to 79, I asked if that was enough, and the psychometrist smiled and said, "No, keep going." Sigh. At least she didn't ask me who was president!
Then why was Dr. P smiling?
Because I did so well!! My score was, once again, just one level below the last time, which was also just behind its previous test. In short, Dr. P was beaming because my decline, though steady, was in a range he was happy with. But, I was not happy. The questions I got wrong were "easy"... there was a blank spot in there that scared me. I wonder when the blank spot will get bigger and/or multiply.
Dr. P has one hell of a job: monitoring hundreds of patients and families through a one-way journey ending in death.
Thankfully, my own reaction is more complex. I’m working on living. Living as fully and joyfully as I can, blank spots be damned.