Last Thursday morning my husband phoned me six times within the space of an hour. By the time I noticed the missed calls and contacted him, anxiety levels were on the rise. The reason for his panic? Not remembering whether he had packed his wallet in his bike bag (where it was now not), or whether he had left it at home. This lack of recollection was making him very anxious due to the imaged ramifications of having lost his wallet during the commute to the office. Covering all possible causes, he had borrowed money to take the train to a point on the journey where he had changed out of his cycling jacket, believing that his wallet may have dropped during this process. Meanwhile, the wallet spent the day undisturbed on the dressing table.
Compare this to our 11 year old son chaotically forgetting his school lunch pack at least once a month - and not realising until lunch time. Actually I have even witnessed him walking into the school grounds without his school bag, lying forgotten at home. I suspect that these memory lapses do annoy him briefly, albeit the outcome is not enough to make him change his behaviour patterns.
My own middle-aged memory seems to be functioning at an adequate capacity, although it is noticeably not as sharp as it once was. My main complaint is that I am terrible at remembering names, yet have an uncanny knack for remembering the names of actors. Admittedly, I sometimes need to phone home to check that I turned off various appliances, or to send someone to the supermarket because I have forgotten a necessary ingredient for the evening’s meal. For me being aware of these memory lapses has resulted in efforts to change my leaving-the-house behaviour to minimise their reoccurrence. I rarely call new people by their names, until I am certain that I will not mess it up.
Forgetting for someone with dementia is often complicated by not remembering exactly what is forgotten, and subsequently becoming anxious that you have forgotten something that you must remember. To confuse matters further, the anxiety can attach itself to something unrelated, being manifested in a behavior (for example: searching in someone else’s wardrobe) that further complicates the possibility of understanding what is happening for the person.
Short term memory is what holds us in place. During the early stages of a dementia, gaps in short term memory become ‘black holes’ that the person drops into, losing themselves and confusing others as they search for a way back on to solid ground.
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