Another sweet old friend comments repeatedly about the beauty of her surroundings and the kindness of her caregivers – same words, delivered with the same radiantly engaging smile, time and time again. But show her an 80-year-old photo of her extended family and she’ll fill you in on all the details of each member’s life.
If you’ve spent much time with the very aged, you’re no doubt familiar with this sort of collapse of short-term memory. And if you’re getting up there in years yourself, you’re probably beginning to identify with those who are already well into this journey.
For those who have yet to experience it, it’s hard to describe.
Maybe it’s like losing your Random Access Memory (and probably some other kinds of memory, too. I used to understand all this but I forget.) You can’t instantly recall what was said 10 minutes ago, or even 10 seconds ago. That information is available only via a thorough search of your memory bank – except that before long, you can’t remember what you were searching for.
Or maybe it’s more like when you’re falling asleep and random, disjointed thoughts begin cascading through your mind, each one blotting out the last, making you wonder repeatedly, “where was I going with that thought?” Except that when you’re suffering from short-term memory loss, you can experience this when you’re wide awake.
Can anything be done about it? Simply trying harder doesn’t help; either there’s no longer a viable storage spot for new information, or the librarian in charge of storing and retrieving that information is on permanent hiatus. There’s some hope that mentally stimulating exercises like crossword puzzles will at least delay memory decline, but the jury still seems to be out on that score.
I say all this because I’ve lately been noticing some eye-rolling and whispering in the presence of such mental lapses – the same sort of eye-rolling and whispering I no doubt did in my younger days, when the possibility of personal aging never crossed my mind.
This is just a gentle reminder, for those whose memories are still intact, that there but for the grace of God go any of us. Please be kind.