My husband has memory loss. It is getting more advanced lately, so we finally went to see a doctor.
It started out with memory lapses. Sometimes, Chuck asked the same question like ‘where is the rake.’ It would be where it always was, but I would tell him anyway. Then a few minutes later after getting distracted for a moment he would say, “Where’s the rake?”
It came more frequently, and then it got quite unsettling. I tried to joke about it, as I did when I wrote a blog post called, “Driving in the Fast Lane” a few years ago. You can read it here.
I learned that it gets worse when someone is stressed. Both of our jobs were super stressful.
We even lost a client once. Chuck totally forgot that we were under orders to not do something. He not only broke the orders in an email while working late one night, but then totally forgot that he did it.
When it hit the fan several days later and we were searching for who let the cat out of the bag, Chuck told me he had no idea. As far as I can tell this man didn’t even lie to his parents as a teenager. He is that honest. I knew because of his past behavior that he didn’t remember doing it at all. He retired within a few months after this incident, though at the age of 70 he was phasing out clients anyway.
Lately, I noticed that he kept getting lost while out driving. I’ve become his GPS when he drives. I constantly have to say “turn left here” or “turn right there.” If I don’t all of a sudden I look up and we’re four blocks in the wrong direction. And these are on streets he’s been driving for years.
By last fall he seemed to have entered a new phase. He remembers things that never happened. We went west for vacation, and he had only been in this area once in his life as a young twenty something on a long trip across America with a college friend. He kept asking me, “Don’t you remember this? We’ve been here. I even remember this waitress.” I’m thinking, “Boy, she aged well.” We had never been there.
Chuck has always had memory problems somewhat. We both have. Our jobs required great concentration, and we were both good at our work. Writing legislative language and negotiating our client’s way through the complex political morass in our state required much thought. We lived in our heads.
Our kids even knew how to break this concentration. I remember the girls placing their hands on each side of Chuck’s face and saying “Chuck!” loudly and forcefully when they wanted to make sure he was listening.
But what was good for our careers isn’t worth a tinker’s damn for our current life as retirees. We need to be more in the moment, which brings me to what Chuck is currently going through.
A Visit with A Neurologist
About two months ago, he visited a neurologist. I tagged along because it was important both of us hear what the doctor had to say. This was apparent by the time we got home, because all Chuck heard was that he was fine.
His doctor asked Chuck a series of verbal questions, designed to help him determine and diagnose Chuck’s situation. Afterwards, the doctor had good news. He said it is not Alzheimers or dementia; but to rule out anything else like a brain tumor he ordered an MRI.
He also thinks that Chuck doesn’t get enough quality sleep. Chuck twitches and jerks all night long, so we wonder if he really gets enough rest. He suggested a CPAP for Chuck.
The doctor did talk to us about being in the moment. He said that Chuck needed to retrain his brain to pay more attention. He mentioned games and crossword puzzles.
A List of Things to Do
When we got home, all Chuck remembered was that the doctor said he was fine. He totally forgot the MRI, the CPAP, or the changes he needed to make to retrain his brain.
So I found an app called ENHANCE and got him started working with it daily. Also, I think games will help. We both played a little bridge when we were young so we may want to try to take it up again. Chess might be an option, too.
We will start with something very simple, though, which will help us both. I tend to live in my head too much, too.
When to See Your Doctor
If you’re concerned about memory loss, see your doctor. He or she can conduct tests to judge the degree of memory impairment and diagnose the cause.
He or she will have a number of questions for you, and it is important to have a family member or friend along to answer some questions based on his or her observations. Questions such as:
• How long have you been having memory problems?
• What medications do you take regularly including prescriptions, over the counter and vitamins?
• What tasks are difficult to perform?
• What have you done for your memory problems? Have these helped?
• Have you recently been ill? What medicine did you take?
• Have you fallen and injured your head?
• If you drink alcohol, how much do you drink daily?
• Have you felt sad, depressed, or anxious lately?
• Have you experienced a major loss, change, or stressful event in your life?
• What is your daily routine? How has your routine changed lately?
The questions are designed to help your doctor test your memory and other thinking skills. He or she may also order blood tests and brain-imaging tests like Chuck’s MRI that can help identify reversible causes of memory problems.
Seeing a Specialist
Your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist in diagnosing dementia or memory disorders, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or geriatrician. Chuck was sent to a neurologist, a physician who specializes in problems related to the brain and central nervous system.
This specialist will try to identify any reversible cause of memory impairment so that you get appropriate treatment.
Stress, anxiety, or depression can cause memory loss and make a person more forgetful. Early on while Chuck was still working, we could tell that stress caused him the most problems. Also, dealing with life changes can leave a person confused or forgetful. Retirement or the loss of a spouse can do this, too.
Retraining the Brain
The doctor made suggestions on how to retrain the brain and how to help Chuck’s brain retain new information. He wants Chuck to try to reconnect the circuits in his brain–the ones that he stopped using when he focused on what was in his head instead of what was in the present.
For example, he suggested that Chuck practice doing only one thing at a time. He also suggested he work on avoiding distractions. Easier said than done. How many times have I seen something on my way to completing a task. I am like a dog who sees a squirrel. Squirrel!! And then I’m off in the opposite direction doing something else.
The other day while in our bedroom, I remembered that I needed to add an event to my calendar in the office. Leaving the bedroom, I noticed several items in the hall that needed to be put up in the guest bath. I made the detour and then noticed some items in the bath that needed to go to the guest bedroom. So I made another detour, and I think you get the picture. By the time I remembered the appointment that needed to be added to the calendar, it was three days later…after the event.
Striving to Stay in the Moment
He also wants Chuck to fully concentrate on whatever he is doing. He advised him to stay in the moment and not think about what he is planning to do next or what he just did. This advice reminded me of Yoga, where we try to bring our minds into the room and leave behind the outside. I’m wondering if Yoga or meditation can help in brain training.
He also told Chuck that if he really needs to remember something to say it several times out loud. This can help him remember important pieces of information. In other words, he wants Chuck to practice remembering things.
Chuck and I are working to retrain our brains. Then Chuck will have another meeting with the neurologist in August. We’re hopeful.
Does anyone in your family suffer from memory loss? Would retraining the brain help or is it something more serious? What have you discovered from consulting with your doctor? Please share your experience in the comments.