Short-term memory lapses do not signal Alzheimer’s
Do you sometimes find yourself wondering “Why did I come to the kitchen?” or “Where did I leave my wallet?” It happens to all of us. No reason to worry or imagine the worst. Or perhaps, of late, you’re struggling to remember names. Often, forgetting the name of a place, say the city your cousin’s son has just moved to, or the name of someone you had been introduced to recently, could set alarm bells ringing in your mind. Or perhaps you’re talking about a movie you had seen when you were in college, and suddenly, you’re mortified that you can’t recall the name of the lead actor. His face floats tantalisingly across your mind, but his name, his darn name, escapes you. After what seems like an age, you finally remember.
But then the doubts begin to fill your mind. Is this Alzheimer’s or a senior moment or just plain forgetfulness?
Statistics tell us that only a small percentage of older people go on to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease resulting from the progressive death of brain cells. This is the most common kind of dementia. It gradually gets worse, leading to not just severe memory loss but also a weakening of thinking and reasoning skills.
On the other hand, failure to recall something is not a disease. Had similar incidents of forgetfulness mentioned earlier happened when you were thirty or forty, you wouldn’t have given them a second thought. Once you cross fifty or so however, every minor memory lapse has you worried and thinking, “This could be a sign of dementia.” And then this makes you feel needlessly anxious, frustrated, and irritated with yourself. Like it happened with me, when my memory failed me recently.
The bane of ageing: taking longer to remember
“Ma’am, you’ll have to do this again,” the young woman at the checkout counter in a popular Mumbai supermarket said, condescendingly surveying the wrinkles on my face. She pushed the card reader towards me and drummed her fingers impatiently on the counter top.
I took a deep breath and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. I thought I had inserted the correct PIN number into the machine, even taking care to cover the keypad so as to hide the number. I’m sharp that way.
While I was pondering over my possible error, the girl at the counter shoved the card reader towards me again. Her irritation was clear on her face as well as in her voice this time.
“Could something be wrong with your machine?” I asked, smiling sweetly.
She probably wanted to say, “Perhaps with your memory, you fossil”. Instead, she shot back, “PLEASE, INSERT THE CORRECT PIN.”
I could sense the fidgeting of the people impatiently standing in the queue behind me. Not wanting to prolong my embarrassment, I said, rather fibbed, loudly, “Ah, I see, I’m using the blue card. The PIN I entered was for my other card, the green one, you see.” All the while I wracked my brains to try and recall that elusive four-digit number.
Finally, the PIN number hit me like a bright light. I was so excited, I shouted it out loud. “I got it! It’s 1464,” I exclaimed. The girl at the counter didn’t share my elation, choosing to roll her eyes instead.
Brain cells in a thousand shades of grey
Relieved to be done with the ordeal, I was waddling across the car park with my grocery bags when a young man came up to me.
“It’s alright Aunty, you were just having a senior moment,” he said smiling, obviously trying to make me feel less uncomfortable about what had happened inside.
Senior moment? Such audacity! You take a little longer to remember things as a senior, and they have a name for it, I was thinking inside my head. Youngsters forget what they mugged up for an exam within a few days. Or probably just one day after the exam. Do they have a name for that? Of course, I didn’t say all this to that kind young man.
“What senior moment?” I said, panting a little. “I have brain cells in a thousand shades of grey, young man.”
“Sure,” he said, still smiling. “But after announcing your PIN to the whole store, you might want to consider changing it,” he added and hurried off. Good thing he reminded me, for the thought had not even crossed my mind.
Do feel free to share your own embarrassing, so-called senior moments. Or ‘not-yet-senior’ moments if you’re on the other, younger side of the big 6-0.