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Memory lapse? Just shoot her -- if she remembers to ask [Blowback]

August 09, 2013|By Amy Wallen
  • MRI and PIB scans, which are used to detect Alzheimer's disease.
MRI and PIB scans, which are used to detect Alzheimer's disease. (Katja Heinemann / HBO )

After reading 27-year-old Max Perry's Op-Ed article "Poor Memory? Forget it" in my old-fashioned print newspaper, I laughed both at his irony and his naivete.

He is right that we older folk say, "Shoot me when my memory loss gets too bad." But, then he says, "Go with the flow." That it's not "cataclysmic."

Dear Max, let me explain this memory loss we are so willing to be shot over.

I see your point, it’s just a cocker spaniel whose name we forgot. If we had dementia we would think that dog was one of our kids. But that’s part of the problem. Memory starts to stretch. It doesn't just feel like we've run out of RAM. Instead, it feels like we've received a corrupted file.  For instance, in writing that sentence, I couldn't remember the word "corrupted."  I'm a writer, so forgetting words is frightening. It's not just keys and cocker spaniels we forget; it compounds. (I Googled it, as you suggest.)

Take that grandmother's brisket recipe you mention that we cook from memory. We forget ingredients. The scary part: We don't know we've forgotten it. We whip up that brisket like we have done every Sunday for the past 20 years, just like our mother and grandmother did, and this one time when we serve it we realize it tastes strange. First thought is our tastes buds are going too. Then someone volunteers what's missing. "Amy, you forgot the salt." Salt! A basic ingredient. How could I forget that?

Dear Max, we do go with the flow. We find the brisket tastes a little better with less salt. Grandma always did over-salt things anyway. Next Sunday, we remember to put in less salt. During the week, we walk into the mall and can't remember what we went there for in the first place. We learn to write everything down. I love my iPhone notepad for this reason alone.  

When I was your age and older folks would say, "Shoot me when my memory gets so bad," I was much less compassionate than you. I was determined that I would continue to practice my sharp memory and never lose it. Silly old people, they just didn't pay attention. Sure, I forgot things. I forgot what my professors in college lectured before the exam. I forgot, well, I can’t remember what I forgot. Hardly anything, really. I'm relieved I don't, nor ever did, have to remember Twitter handles like you do. 

The lyrics to music we know 30 years later, that's not memorization. We don't know how those words got in there. Memorization is when you repeat something to yourself over and over with the intention of loading it line by line into your memory bank. Those lyrics just show up on our tongues even if we haven't heard the song in decades. It's cool, sure. We can also sing the SpaghettiOs commercial, the local insurance man's 1970 jingle and the Brady Bunch theme song. It just pops into our heads for no reason.

(Let me add that I appreciate you recognize our music had social relevance. What's up with your generation?)

But now, here I am, 49 years old, on the very cusp of the baby boomers. Not even over 60, like the memory losers you refer to, and I worry about dementia. Not because it runs in my family (it doesn't). My sister's phone number is no longer in my head but in my iPhone. That Indian restaurant that was too loud with the gluten-free naan, whose name I can't remember, I never want to go back there again anyway.

But here is the cataclysmic part: We also see into the future. The other day, my father on the phone said, "So, was it you or your sister who came to visit last week?" My father does not have dementia. He's 84 and can remember stories about his great grandmother. When I call a friend and say I just wanted to RSVP to her party, and she says, "You already called yesterday," that's when I wonder if I need to get checked out for possible early onset dementia.

Go with the flow? Dear Max, we don't even know what all we've forgotten. Oh, the relief in that. Shoot me? Naw, by the time my memory gets so bad that I want to be shot, I will have forgotten that I thought that. 

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Amy Wallen is the author of the bestselling novel, "MoonPies and MovieStars."

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