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Brain Drain

I had my annual checkup yesterday.

I had one thing that I wanted to ask my doctor about, and that was my failing memory. I used to have an excellent memory. I didn’t have to write anything down. I had hundreds of phone numbers stored in my brain. I still remember irrelevant details from back when my memory was phenomenal, like my foster father’s license plate in the 1970s: ERB 185. But lately I have trouble committing new information to memory.

All week I kept reminding myself, “Don’t forget to ask the doctor about memory.”

And I was very pleased with myself for remembering to do that.

“Can you give me an example?” she asked.

I racked my brain, trying to think of an example. Then I remembered trying to dial a phone number from work last Friday. I rarely make phone calls because I dislike talking on the phone. But sometimes it’s just the most effective tool for the job, and this was one of those times.

This involved dialing 9 to get out, then 613 for the local area code, then the 7-digit number. I had to start over at least a dozen times because I kept screwing it up. I’d forget to dial 9, or I’d forget to dial the area code, or I’d dial my own first 3 digits instead of the correct ones, or some combination of those mistakes. I could not believe I kept getting it wrong, over and over and over again. And I was doing my very best to do it right. Eventually I got it, but by then I felt like the village idiot.

My doctor did not say something reassuring like “Oh, that happens to me all the time.”

Instead, she asked if there was any history of Alzheimer’s among my parents or grandparents.

“No.” I said.

“Good,” she said. And then she went on to say that it was unlikely it was Alzheimer’s because of my age and family history.

I was somewhat relieved.

After work I decided to go buy new shoes because I’ve been wearing sneakers with holes in the toes since sandal season ended, and maybe it’s time I had a real pair of shoes. So I went to my favourite shoe store, which is Ecco. They’re kind of expensive, but I walk a lot and they do make high quality, comfortable, long lasting shoes. I figure a pair of Eccos will last four times as long as a cheaper pair of shoes, so it makes sense to pay twice as much. Besides, I wear a pair of shoes every day till they fall apart. One pair at a time, that’s me.

So anyway. I go to Ecco, and I look at the shoes. They were out of stock in my size in the one pair I loved, which was this springy-soled red leather lace-up walking shoe. But while I’m looking, I see some nice walking boots, and I start thinking about how practical they would be. They’re Gortex, so I could wear them no matter what the weather, unlike the red leather shoes. They’re good to -20, and maybe more with a heavier wool sock. They’d be great for hiking too. They’re not cheap, but I bought them knowing I wouldn’t have to buy another pair of boots for years because these ones are damned near perfect.

Which is precisely why I bought an almost-identical pair of boots from the exact same store last year around this time. Unfortunately I didn’t remember doing that until last night – hours after buying them again.

Last night I lay awake in bed thinking about the doctor’s appointment and the boots and my failing memory and I suddenly remembered that one of my grandfathers did die of Alzheimers. And I got all freaked out all over again, because how could I have forgotten something so critical? The doctor even asked me that, and I said no. So maybe I do have Alzheimers after all.

Today I decided to make baked beans. This involved a trip to the grocery store, which is about a 25-minute walk from home. I walked almost all the way there before remembering I’d forgotten to bring money or a credit card. So I walked all the way back home to get money. By the time I got home I was a bit hungry, so I threw some leftover pizza in the microwave. While it was heating, I moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer and took my vitamins and a tablespoon of flax oil to improve my memory. Then I wolfed down my pizza and headed back to the grocery store. Without my money. Again.

21 comments to Brain Drain

  • It could just be stress. When my mother was in hospital last year, I couldn’t remember anything short term. It does seem odd that it would sort of suddenly appear (the inability to remember), as opposed to creeping up on you over the course of more than a year or two. I would see if you have any other signs of stress which might confirm that diagnosis, like breaking out (zits), hives, other skin problems, gut issues, etc. (all favourite stress signs for me). Also, I used to have a mania for buying mustard and mayo. I wouldn’t remember that I had three jars already at home and when at the store and faced with the mustard aisle, I’d think, “Ooh, I’d better get some!” So you could just be weird too. :)

  • Zoom,

    Your phone number difficulties may have a much more benign explanation than problems with your brain.

    Most people are able to remember 7 digits (or other discrete things) in their short-term memory. Then with a bit of short-term memory repetition this stuff can get stored in long-term memory. When you add 9 and a 3-digit area code, you’ve gone past what short-term memory can cope with.

    You might be able get around this by not thinking of the 9-613 as a number, but as a pattern you punch on your phone.

    Here’s a McGill source that confirms my 7-thing theory

  • hilarious post about something that must be worrying. though the more you worry about it the more likely it is that you will experience such memory lapses.

    do lots of crosswords and blogging and other things that exercise your brain. try to minimise stress.

    if all else fails, I can always book you into the gimcrack :-)

  • Julia, it didn’t just suddenly appear – it’s been creeping up on me for a couple of years now. The doctor suggested stress too, but I don’t feel especially stressed these days – life is good.

    David, thank you for that. It made me realize I should be happy about all the stuff I *do* remember, instead of panicking about the stuff I *don’t* remember. I know my bank card number, my library card number, and my SIN number off by heart. I’ve temporarily forgotten my PIN number a couple of times, but I almost always remember it.

    Nursemyra, eek, I’ll do anything to avoid being booked into the gimcrack, especially after reading about the prolapse! I’m STILL doing kegels, 45 minutes later!

  • Deb

    That’s exactly what I have too…When I was making my meme list, I would think of something but when I went to put it on paper, it was gone…

  • grace

    Zoom, Dave is right about the 7 digit thing. But you might want to have your thyroid levels checked. Memory problems and trouble sleeping are symptoms.

    Ha, I had typed memeory problems. Meme-ory problems are what Deb has!

  • Oh Zoom… That’s sounds really stressful. I can’t help wondering if it’s a fluke pre-diagnosis, like my MS scare. All the symptoms fit, but it still wasn’t MS. It was something far less scary. Three cheers for a pinched nerve!

    I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but the only reason I ever remember to do anything is because I carry a small notebook around with me everywhere I go. If I didn’t have my lists, I’d forget to shower. Every day. Totally gross, I know. Thank God for lists.

    My mom swears by ginkgo baloba to improve her memory… It’s supposed to be quite good…

  • Deb

    I also hear that pre-menopausal women have significant memory issues. I am going to check into it more thoroughly though.

  • Deb

    Oh yeah; a friend of mine who is the head of Community Living Dufferin and deals with the challenged has room available for us…just kidding. She said that if you can take an pen and paper and draw a clock and put the 3, 6 9 and 12 in the right spots, you are not pre-Alzheimers…so far I can do it…but I do have to think about it.

  • Hmm. I had no problem with the clock drawing. I remain unconvinced that that’s proof I’m not demented.

    Grace, thanks for reminding me about the thyroid thing – my doctor did put it on the blood requisition form this year, along with all the usual annual checkup stuff.

    I just read a book on the subject of memory loss – it’s called Carved in Sand. Interesting. Not very helpful, and kind of alarming, but interesting. She says you’re in big trouble if you inherit E4 alleles on chromonsome 19. (You get two, and they can be E2, E3, or E4.) If you get a single E4 (about 25% of the population) you have about 4 times the risk of getting Alzheimers. If you get two E4s, you’ve got about 15 times the risk. On average, E4 carriers show signs of the disease 7 years earlier than non-carriers.

    But wait, it gets worse – if you have E4s and you drink, you’re four times more likely to get dementia than if you don’t drink. The E4 allele increases your risk of high cholesterol and of diabetes and depression. It makes the consequences of smoking much worse. It also stifles the growth of new neurons. And more.

    They can determine whether you have 0, 1 or 2 E4 alleles with a simple blood test. But they won’t, because of the potential for adverse psychological consequences.

    I shouldn’t read books like this.

  • Nancy Verspoor

    I now realize why I always have money and a credit card in my back pocket when I head out each day! I often leave my backpack behind. I’m very forgetful, and from time to time I worry about it. I think my record is 10 trips to the mud room to get a refill bag for the kitchen garbage before I actually remember what it is I went in there for.

    It seems to me that the more you worry about your memory the more stressed you get which might or might not exacerbate the problem.

    Making notes and lists is good. The good news is: I find that having written the note I can usually remember at least half the items on it when I get to the store. This good; because I almost always leave the note on the kitchen table.

    Good luck Zoom – quit worrying and stay off those pesky medical websites…

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one with a daily that runs like that. Some weeks are better. Some are worse. I can laugh for a while but when tired it’s vexing and frustrating not knowing what your body is up to or why.

  • by Deb’s link, I’m sinking. devil’s advocacy link: stress has overlapping loss of mindfulness too.

  • J

    Are you going to go back to the doctor?

  • Interesting. By Deb’s link, I’ve got zero out of ten things to worry about. I do know stress makes me distracted (as detailed in Pearl’s link), but I haven’t been feeling particularly stressed lately.

    J- I don’t have plans to go back to the doc till my next annual checkup, which will be October 2008. I can’t really think of any good reason to go back, other than to let her know I remembered I DO have a family history of Alzheimers. Do you think I should go back sooner?

  • James

    Memory loss can also be a temporary side effect quitting smoking… you quit 5-6 months ago, so it could just be temporary. Memory loss is also a side effect of smoking to begin with, but that apparently gets better with time.

  • Guy

    Hey Zoom can you die from Alzheimers or with Alzheimers?
    I can not remember? Hmmmm

  • For a truly anal examination of footwear for heavy duty walking, check out Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker IV.

    tOM (& Dancer – now I recognize you, ex-neighbour)

  • Dancer from the Dog Park? If so, now I recognize you too!

  • […] This is what I wore today: short underwear, long underwear, thermal socks, t-shirt, thermal pullover, jeans, clapotis, voodoo wristwarmers (I knit these a couple of weeks ago, and I’m crazy about them.), Julia’s windproof mittens, toque, Julia’s homemade fleece neckwarmer (which is really a facewarmer – you just pull it up over your nose, and your breath creates a nice pocket of warmth around your face. It’s amazing how much warmer I am when I wear this.), parka, and Ecco boots (I LOVE these things. They’re sturdy and comfortable for walking, they’re gortex, they’re dry and warm, and they’re 100% maintenance-free.) […]