Thursday, 3 May 2012

Memory Lapse

Fast forward, I'm 78; I've aged well, a little grey, but sprightly. I'm sitting in a hard-backed chair; there's an unfamiliar person before me. He sits behind a desk, wears specs and has a beard; he looks professional. My mind wanders off; where are we? I try to take in my surroundings. A plain, clinical room with the latest voice-activated, touch-screen technology. There's no pens, papers, or folders. No personal clues about its owner. It's cold and my back's getting stiff sitting like this.
A hand pats mine and a male voice gently asks me: “What year is it?”
My full attention is now fixed on this stranger, “It's 2058,” I reply and smile sweetly. So that's it, he thinks I'm thick or senile.
Who is the Prime Minister?”
Some good-looking, middle-class chap I expect. I've never been interested in politics.” I'm deliberately being evasive. I won't play this game. I may be closer to 80 than 60, but there's nothing wrong with my memory. I still cook and live quite independently.
Where are you right now?”
I'm opposite you answering these questions.” That's thrown him. He sighs, leans back in his chair and observes me. I do the same, staring at him determinedly.
What to do... What to do... What shall we do about Heather?” He repeats over, sounding just like an owl. Who is this Heather? He turns to address a female person on his left. Now where did she come from?!
A sudden jolt! A head jerk! I'm returned, slumped over, to my sofa. I must have dozed off watching a Louie Theroux BBC2 documentary. I remember – he was following dementia sufferers in Phoenix, Arizona – the pieces fall into place, my dream scenario now making sense. I'd dropped off at the bit where a woman's memory was being tested. Three objects were named for her to remember. 2 seconds later, these objects could not be recalled and I struggled along with her. Apple... Apple... what came after apple? Total wipe out. Screen gone blank. Shut down. Next: spell WORLD backwards. The woman was successful. I wasn't, my brain just doesn't compute like that. It took me longer. I need to see words written down or printed. No wonder I fell asleep, it was exhausting.
How useful are general cognitive tests? Is it right these are used to establish a diagnosis? How we retain information and interpret the world is individual.