The Second Thing to Go

The memory, they say, is the second thing to go as you get older. And I don’t remember the first thing.

My memory is pretty average. I’m quick to come up with the stuff I use/interact with on a regular basis. Some phone numbers. Functions in Word that would cause most people’s eyes to cross or glaze over. I have a mental block about names, but always have. Bizarrely, I will remember everything else about a person–the name of their horse, where they went to school, what kind of work they do. But ask me their name and I draw a complete blank.

After years of feeling like an idiot, I finally started using the trick of finding a word that rhymes with the person’s name. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with them (like Melanie, who as far as I know never committed a felony). But like all those other attributes about them, I’ll remember that rhyming word first, then that gets me to their name.

The strength of my memory is a bit of an obsession of mine because my dad has Alzheimer’s. Mind you, he’s 84 years old. But even still, every time I can’t come up with a word while I’m writing, or when I run downstairs for something and go back up without it because I got distracted by moving the laundry to the dryer, I freak out just a bit. I know that my memory lapses have nothing to do with Alzheimer’s. But I worry nonetheless.

I’ve mostly accepted my father’s disease and the fact that he no longer knows me by name. He still recognizes me as his daughter most of the time, but I don’t know that he’s aware of which of his four daughters I am. Since I live five minutes away from his care home, he sees me more than the other three. But I wonder sometimes if in his mind I’m a stand-in for all four of us, which is fine by me. He smiles when he sees me, is so happy that I’m visiting and that’s all that matters.

I keep an eagle eye out for any scientific studies about Alzheimer’s, even though it’s too late to do my dad any good. Two that were reported recently in the New York Times are quite intriguing. They’re related to testing for Alzheimer’s rather than treatment of the disease, but of course it’s necessary to know the condition before treating it.

One test uses a special dye that allows the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s to be visible via a PET scan. Living Alzheimer’s patients agreed to have their brains scanned using the technique and to allow scientists to examine their brains after they died. Of the 29 who have died and been autopsied, 28 were accurately diagnosed as to whether or not they had Alzheimer’s.

The second procedure tests the level of beta amyloid in the blood. Amyloid is present in both the brain and spinal fluid in a healthy person. But when amyloid accumulates in plaque in the brain (which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s) less of it will be found in the spinal fluid. The theory is, amyloid will also decrease in the blood, and that is what this study is testing. Blood tests are a lot easier to perform on a large number of people than PET scans, which is why the success of this study would be a good thing.

Of course once a practical test exists, there’s still the little issue of finding a way of reversing the course of the disease. Drugs are being developed to remove amyloid from the brain, which I presume you’d only want to do if there’s too much there to begin with.

While contemplating all this, I got a mini-brainstorm that became a germ of a story. What if a near fail-safe treatment for Alzheimer’s were developed? A drug is created that will restore the brain to healthy normalcy. Except there’s a drawback–the drug wipes the brain clean of memories. The person treated would have to re-learn everything. He would not remember anyone from his previous life, including loved ones.

Would you say yes for the treatment for your mother, father, sister or brother? For my own self, for my dad, I’d say YES in a heartbeat. It’s a terrible disease and nothing would make me happier than to see my dad cured, no matter what the stakes. But wow, what a choice to make.

So what if you’re the one making the decision in this hypothetical story? That is, you’re the one with Alzheimer’s, still with enough function to make the choice for yourself. What would you choose?

Not sure if I can make that choice myself.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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