Marja and I visited friends the other night. They’re a small group of twenty-somethings who live near-by in community, and each volunteers at an anti-poverty ministry in the city. Our conversation turned to the role of the Millennials in the politics of the next generation. I mentioned The Fourth Turning, a book quite relevant to the conversation and tried to give them a synopsis. But I got lost in my own words. When I realized I couldn’t find my way through to an adequate description, I said to the volunteers, “I can’t do this! I’ll just have to stop.” I’d told them earlier this year about my Alzheimer’s, so I acknowledged my confusion, and we went on with the conversation.
I noticed three things. First, I believe this is the first time I’ve gotten confused enough that I had to give up half-way through a conversation. It feels like a further step down the ladder.
Second, I was gratified not to feel embarrassed by the episode. The conversation just continued on as if it were normal for someone to get confused by his own thoughts. Nobody seemed weirded out.
Third, I wonder how this will affect my willingness engage in complex conversations. Will I be comfortable with trying to explain The Fourth Turning again? But the reminder is: “Use it or lose it!” If a person with moderate Alzheimer’s, for instance, has trouble buttoning her blouse and her husband jumps in to help and then proceeds to take over every time a blouse needs buttoning, his wife will quickly lose the skill altogether. Better to let her struggle for awhile until it’s clear that she can’t do it.
Mine, of course, is a cognitive, not a muscle-coordination problem. But the principle is the same. It will be better for me to continue engaging in such discussions, even of The Fourth Turning, until I’m sure that the capacity is really gone. That will probably result in a few more potentially uncomfortable times before it becomes clear that I can no longer do it, but I also don’t want to shut down any earlier than I have to.
In my previous post I described my confusion washing dishes at Joseph's House. I wondered whether it would cause the interns’ “opinion of and respect for me [to] change.” I received several comments and emails from readers who thought it unlikely I’d lose the interns’ respect as I worsened. They’re probably right. Actually, even as I wrote the post, I struggled to find an appropriate word and used “respect” because I couldn’t find just the right one.
One reader suggested that what others might lose is not respect for but interest in me. That feels accurate. Even as people continue to feel respect for me, it’s only natural that some will feel little interest in spending time with me. I had exactly that reaction to Robert Greenleaf, an author I greatly admire, when he visited us here in Washington. Once it became clear that he was cognitively impaired and that it would keep him from meaningful discussion, I saw no purpose in remaining and left as soon as I could without being grossly impolite. I don’t feel proud of that, but it certainly seems a normal reaction and I can’t see any reason it should be different in my case.
In case any of you is wondering, I won’t be getting the results of my neuropsych evaluation until after the government shutdown is over, and the National Institutes of Health can reopen. Given that the latest suggestion from the Republicans to extend the debt ceiling debate for another six weeks or so while keeping the government shuttered, my results may be a while. Other people’s problems with the shutdown are certainly greater than mine, but I’m still frustrated.