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If you're new to this blog and want some context for it, read this post from the day I announced my Alzheimer's disease and this post about the day I announced I had lost it. For more info, visit my website with my autobiography and all blog entries in chronological order for easier reading to catch up. There's also a sermon on the spiritual lessons I've learned through this journey through my damaged mind.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Grandchildren Get It

Napa, CA
 My confusion when trying to perform multi-step tasks continues.  It seems a bit worse than it used to be and certainly more frequent. 

My granddaughter Madeline was mildly ill Friday, so we canceled our plans for an excursion into San Francisco and she, her brother, and I spent much of the day inside playing board games, one of which was Yahtzee, which was new to me.  If you know poker, however, the rules are not complicated.  One of them involved the conditions under which you could roll the die additional times during your turn, and the kids tried to explain it to me.  After a while, it became clear that I wasn’t getting it.  Madeline, nine years old, looked at me brightly and said, “That’s okay, grandpa, we can explain them to you as we go along.”

Madeline had noticed my inability and frustration but showed no hint of surprise, condescension 0r impatience.  She just decided to comfort me: “That’s okay, grandpa.”  We proceeded with the game and, indeed, we had no problems. 

A similar difficulty occurred in a cooperative game Laurel, her husband, the kids and I were playing yesterday.  Each player gets four “actions” in each turn, but the other players can help figure out which actions should be taken.  Needless to say, everyone contributes their ideas one on top of each other, but a consensus usually arises quickly.  I’d played the game with them before and knew the rules.  Nevertheless, I just couldn’t follow the discussions.  Once we got beyond the first or second action, I couldn’t keep them all in my head simultaneously, nor could I figure out how one suggestion was better than another in helping us win the game.  It was like trying to follow scientists discussing a new and complicated theory; I was in over my head.  But this was a conversation the children easily understood about a family game.  I could only sit and watch, a new experience for me.

Trying to make simple calculations in my head has gotten difficult, too.  How many tablespoons are in a cup?  There are three steps:
  1. I know that there are 15 milliliters [ml] in a tablespoon and 240 ml in a cup.
  2. I don’t know without a pencil and paper how many times 15 goes into 240, but I do know that 30 (twice 15) goes into 240 8 times.
  3. Multiply 8 by 2 to get back to tablespoons and you get 16 of them.
It seemed simple to me. On paper it took me perhaps fifteen seconds.  But I just couldn’t keep all three steps in my head at the same time.

The impairment is annoying, but, fortunately, I don’t feel embarrassed or get angry with myself.  Although I don’t have Alzheimer’s, I know that the chances of my cognitive decline worsening are high (see here).  If I don’t dwell on how much I’ve lost compared to my past and if I don’t dwell on what’s coming in the future, things are just fine. 

Most religions seem to recognize the same truth, for instance,
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34
I’ve always known this intellectually, but my intellectual impairment seems to have inscribed it in my heart, too. 

It’s a wonderful gift.


  1. Anonymous3/31/2014

    Yes the difference compared to someone with alzheimer's is that they would not remember that they had played the yahtzee game the day before.

    1. One of the things that makes cognitive impairment so difficult to understand and to diagnose is that symptoms vary from mild (like mine), to more severe (can't remember the Yahtzee game from yesterday), to severe (can't remember one's own name), to much worse. The diagnosis of what's causing the impairment is made not so much by the severity of the dementia (most all of them progress through the various steps), but the underlying pathology in the brain. For most dementias, at this point, most causes don't have a reliable means to diagnose them.

  2. Anonymous4/01/2014

    Happy to find a blog written by the person who has the disease. I live in Sweden. Here we have a person blogging about her alseheimer and that is more interesting than reading blogs from the perspective from the loved ones. I got my diagnosis in november last year but I noticed that something was wrong in 2011. I am still in a mild stage and can still live a good life.I have had good counceling and have found out what feels good and dropped things that make me feel bad (of course i'ts importent to have some challenges),

    1. I'm glad that you have some support through the counseling.

  3. Oy David - your path to find the answer to how many TB in a Cup made the cook AND mathematician in me cringe. You made it even harder by going from the Imperial system to the Metric system and back. Yikes! You gave my brain a workout just following your path, which was correct of course. For future cooking: the TB is 1/2 of a "shot" . peace and hugs

    1. And to make matters more confusing than I mentioned in the blog, I tried to convert from coffee "scoops." I knew that most people put in one scoop of ground coffee per cup of brewed coffee; I thought a scoop was about a tablespoon. Turns out that I found three different opinions on the Internet for what a scoop was: 2.5 ml (half a tsp ... way off, but I found it several places), one tablespoon, and two tablespoons. The latter was the most common answer. It took me a while to let that one go.

  4. This post reminded me of a conversation my husband told me about: he was in the schoolyard with our son, who is 11 and developmentally disabled. A little girl came over to play (she's only about 6 or 7 but always makes a point of talking to our son). And she said to my husband, "Jonathan's like my great-grandma -- she can't remember things very well either, so she says the same things over and over." She was very matter-of-fact about it, just commenting on something interesting that she'd observed but not making any judgment about it. Children DO "get it" -- and they are good at that "Do not worry" perspective, too. Thank you for sharing these experiences.

  5. Bless your granddaughter's heart! Out of the mouths of babes...

  6. Anonymous4/03/2014

    What I admire is your lack of embarrassment or anger with yourself. I have a lot to learn from you, and read your stories with great interest and gratitude. Thank you for shining your light to help us.


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