They warn you of this but it’s still a shock when it happens, or when the slow realisation that it is happening is recognised. The normal forgetfulness that goes with ageing is supposed to mean that you are good at remembering things in the distant past but pretty hopeless at being able to recall what happened yesterday. I recognise that, but for me the painful bit is trying to remember names, places, and moments. I get clues – sometimes can manage a first name or even the ‘feel’ of a name, often a glimpse of the person’s face, but then can’t get the rest.
It makes conversation difficult, as others wait patiently as you try to get to the rest of what you want to say. My strategy to deal with this is not to say anything until I am reasonably confident of being able to go ahead, but often I forget to do that! And blurt out the part of what I want to say and then come to a full stop. Frustrating for me, embarrassing for others.
I look up the memory problem on the internet and get alarmed at all the diagnostic theories that suggest forgetfulness marks the early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
But then observe how others – whom I regard as being in full mental health –have exactly the memory problem, and get as irritated about it, as I do. One of my colleagues in a group I belong to hits his head with anger as he struggles to get the next word. I feel for him, but am a bit encouraged as well; ‘it isn’t just me’. An old friend going back to schooldays has to check whether he has already told the story he is about to tell. Often he has. Apparently around 40 per cent of people over 65 have some kind of memory difficulty.
There are all sorts of advice on the relevant websites such as living sensibly, keeping awareness of the wider world, socialising, exercising regularly, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fats, managing stress, getting plenty of sleep, and not smoking and if drinking, doing so wisely.
I think the hardest thing about all this is accepting that there are huge gaps in the memories of my life, which are almost impossible to reach. Slowly sometimes some of them come back, sliding out of lost memory like a shy recluse, and then the person that I was draws near to the person I now am. It is worst of all when people have been forgotten, and that feels not only like a loss, but a betrayal as well.
The College where I was trained is closing and I went to the Valedictory Event last Saturday, meeting several of my old friends and ex colleagues. Great chunks of memory came hurtling back into my mind. So perhaps its not so bad as sometimes it seems.
I have a card near to our computer, given to me from all the members of my family on my eightieth birthday.
It says ‘Don’t Panic’. Good advice from the stable and utterly reliable people whose love will always help me to define myself, forgetful or not.