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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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Less Confusion; Memory Still Impaired

Washington DC
Several Sundays ago, I was walking home from church and thinking about how I would spend the rest of the day.  The afternoon seemed more wide open than I had anticipated.  Suddenly I realized why: I was supposed to be at a church leadership team meeting.  I had looked at my calendar several times during the week so I had known it was coming.  I’d even remembered it during the morning service.  Nevertheless, I’d forgotten.  I walked back quickly and was only a little late. 

Part of our agenda was for each of us to report whether we wanted to stay on the team another year.  Kent asked me whether I thought my cognitive impairment would interfere with my work.  I told him the impairment had been almost stable for a year.  Later, I worried that Kent’s own judgment was that I should leave the team because my memory was so bad.  I asked him.

He agreed it was obvious that I had memory problems, but my awareness of my impairment made it a non-issue for the team.  He encouraged me to stay on. 

Our church meets in a room that is used by others during the week.  Someone has to arrive early, get the chairs out, and set up for the service.  A small group of us takes the fourth Sunday of the month, so this past Sunday was our turn.  I’ve done this every month for several years.  I have it in my calendar as a regular task.  Nevertheless, I forgot completely.  Even when I got to the service and said hello to Maria, the person in charge of our setting up, I didn’t remember.  It was only half way through the service when I wondered why Maria (who ordinarily leads worship on our set-up Sunday) was leading today that I realized I’d forgotten.

I apologized to Maria after the service, of course, and she was as gracious as always.  It was more than graciousness, though.  Like Kent, Maria knows me well.  She’s been with me through the ups and downs of this long struggle.  We both know that we can’t count on my memory.  I do my best, and she knows it.  When I screw up, we both know what’s happening, so there’s easy forgiveness on her side and little embarrassment on my side.  I am grateful.

Over the past year, my memory impairment may have gotten a little worse, but my episodes of confusion are considerably less severe than they were.  One of the big changes is that I’m no longer having those episodes that anyone would recognize as impairment.  Rather, as with the two stories above, people to whom I describe them are more likely to respond that they could happen to anybody.  I’ve written before about the difference.

The slightly worsening memory could even be the influence of aging.  So it seems I’m recovering a little.  I tend to see the gifts of my decline more than the limitations.  It’s an interesting space I inhabit.  Impaired, forgiven, loved and included.  The future is, as it always is, unknowable, but I’m as content as at any time in my life.


  1. Anonymous6/24/2014

    The real conundrum is distinguishing the "absent-minded professor" from the person with pathological memory problems.

    If someone is asked to go to the store to get some bread and the person comes home with several other things but no bread because he/she was pondering a new theory about the Peloponnesian War, we think this person is absent-minded because of thinking of "more important things."

    When someone is older and the same thing happens, how much is caused by stress and having a lot on one's mind and how much is caused by aging and pathological processes?

    I have a friend who forgot to go to an important final exam in college. And yes, he did become a professor.

    1. At the time that I wrote a post on Normal Aging last Nov 7, I thought the differences between the decline of normal aging and more significant impairment was fairly straightforward. I no longer think so. You are right. These questions are not simple, and we have to be willing to live with the ambiguity.

    2. Anonymous6/24/2014

      I meant to say, but forgot, one difference between the experience of the young absent-minded professor and your own experience is that you can see a difference between yourself now and previously. The young absent-minded professor was always absent-minded and probably always will be. (At least he still is at 73.)

      I didn't mean to trivialize your situation. I was thinking of other people.

    3. Six months ago I might have interpreted your comment as trivialization. I no longer do. It's a very complicated issue that (we all need to remember) is ambiguous ... like so much else in life.

  2. Anonymous7/01/2014

    Have you already eliminated nutrition as a cause for your absent-mindedness?

    Low levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, or folate may make memory unreliable, and absorption of these nutrients declines over time.

    Tests to request are: urinary MMA, serum B12, folate, homocysteine, vit D 25-OH.

    Tests can be ordered directly online at various places, if your doctor isn't helpful. I've ordered tests from the Life Extension Foundation website and found it easy-- they email a lab order, I print it, take it to a LabCorp center, and receive the results a week later.

  3. Anonymous7/01/2014

    Also thyroid (and other) hormones can affect memory. For those you'd need to check TSH, free-T3, and free-T4.

    If your serum B12 or TSH levels are normal, be aware that the lab ranges for these two can be misleading. Many people experience symptoms with a serum B12 below 400 or 500, so having it higher than that is helpful. B12 is easy to bring up with a sublingual methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin tablet. TSH should be 2 or above.


  4. Anonymous7/01/2014

    The TSH should be not be over should be 1 or 2.
    Above 5, one would be hypo-thyroid and the memory loss would be severe!

    This happened to my husband two years ago and his memory loss escalated!
    It has since stabalized.

    Gerry H.

  5. I realize that many of my readers are less trusting than I of their neurologists to know about these issues. But before you do act on an abnormal results, I would advise at least getting the advice of a neurologist as to what is normal and what is not, what the implications might be, and what should be done. You don't need to follow the "establishment" advice, of course, but I would personally want to know what the advice was before proceeding.


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