Jane Brody's New York Times article about cognitive impairment as a sign of impending dementia hit me like a water balloon dropped from a high-rise. If you're having a problem remembering things, such as simple, familiar words, or names of people you know, you might have only a few more years of functional living before Alzheimer's disease takes over your life.
What scares me is that I have had these cognitive impairments for some time. I've always had difficulty remembering names, even in my twenties. Something in my cognitive makeup doesn't latch onto names, so for years I've run into people whose faces I know but whose name I cannot produce. Words also escape me from time to time. The name of a flower I see by the walk just escapes me, as does the common noun that I know perfectly well but my brain just won't produce. I've learned to live with these frustrating and sometimes embarrassing impairments. If it gets no worse than this, I can take frustration and occasional embarrassment, but if these lapses are indicative of looming dementia, I don't want to face it.
In their declining years, my parents both exhibited mild to moderate dementia and confusion, which they tried to hide. Dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are diseases that have a genetic element, and that gives me more cause for concern. When my parents were spending their final years in a nursing home, I told my wife that if she suspected I was losing my mental faculties, she should sign me up for skydiving lessons. "If I can't remember to pull the ripcord, I don't want to live, anyway," I said.
I stand by that sentiment. It seems cruel to see someone who is intellectually sharp trapped in a body ravaged by MS or ALS, but it seems even worse to me to occupy a relatively healthy body but lose memories, reasoning and personality, leaving nothing but a shell. For the present, I'm hoping that Brody's early warning signs are, in my case, simply a case of brain overload, having retained more facts and memories than my brain can efficiently store and reproduce.