A Note to My Future Self

Image courtesy of Nuttakit at freedigitalphotos.net

I am frightened of three things: 1) spiders; 2) heights; and 3) senility. The first I take care of by calling for my wife or younger daughter to dispose of the demon spawn as quickly as they can. I avoid the second whenever possible. The third…that’s what we are going to talk about today.

A number of our readers, writers and non-writers alike, are getting up there in age. We wouldn’t have it any other way, I assure you, when one considers the alternative. I would venture to say that all of us, if not all, have family members, loved ones (those are sometimes mutually exclusively groups, but that’s a topic for another time) and acquaintances who are experiencing or have experienced the beginning of the long cognitive fade. I’m not talking about occasionally being unable to place a name with a face, misplacing the car keys or cell phone, or forgetting an appointment or task. I’m referring to repeating questions or stories several times within a period of a few minutes; failing to recognize an immediate family member or member of the household, frequently getting lost in one’s home or other familiar surroundings, or finding oneself in a place with no recollection of getting there; to name a few. The most terrifying aspect of this for me is that people so afflicted often seem to be blissfully unaware of what is occurring. I’ve had some experience: literally all of the members of my paternal blood line going back two generations died in the grip of some form of senility or dementia, and all would have denied that there was anything wrong with them.

I don’t know what my situation will be if or when the same happens to me. I have decided, however, that I want at least some warning, other than people telling me second-hand stories of what I have and have not been doing. I have accordingly taken the step of leaving notes to my future self. The Google Calendar is wonderful for this, though I am sure that there are plenty of other apps that will do the same job to a greater or lesser extent. I am 63 right now (yes, yes, I know, you don’t believe that someone of my youthful appearance, virility, and mental acuity is 63, but it’s true! No I do not need the original VigRX male enhancement pills or any other enhancement!); commencing on January 1, 2019 I have left a notation, repeating weekly, asking myself if I am 1) missing appointments; 2) forgetting important dates; 3) getting lost; and 4) having people tell me that I am asking the same questions and/or telling the same stories over and over.  I have also noted that if the answer to any of these questions is yes I need to seek medical help immediately. I close with a message from my (by then) younger self. I don’t know if this will help, but it’s a step, if I need it.

If you are of a certain age, are you doing anything like this as a hedge against what might be inevitable? Do you know of anyone who is? Or are you not worried about it?

29 thoughts on “A Note to My Future Self

  1. Joe,

    Timely post. I’m in the same boat. In one month I will be 63. My father died two weeks ago with complications of dementia. I watched him decline over the last ten years from a physician with a sharp mind to a feeble nursing home resident who couldn’t recognize his own family, could barely answer questions, and was losing the ability to even feed himself. I’m sad at his passing, but he was ready and wanted to “go home.” He’s in a better place.

    But back to the subject of your post. I love the idea of predated instructions. I’ll have to think on that one. I’ve made off hand remarks to my wife about drastic things I would do if I were aware (and that’s the key) that I was starting down that slippery slope of dementia.

    But here’s a positive note. Maybe only a thread to grasp, but at least a thread. A few years ago there were two studies that showed high doses of omega-3 oils, vitamins B6, Folic acid, and B12 slowed down cognitive decline and brain atrophy. So before you reach the point of starting Aricept, go to your favorite drug store and grab the following: the highest dose omega-3 they have, Vitamin B6 100 mg, Folic Acid 800 mcg, and Vitamin B12 500 mcg. You can obtain a higher dose, purer, Omega-3 (Lovaza) by prescription from your doctor, and a higher dose folic acid.

    The heritage of dementia runs back farther than my father, so the same week I read the above studies, I was in the drug store buying my anti-aging formula. I believe in a “shotgun” approach – any and all measures that might help. Exercise, healthy eating, mental gymnastics, and drugs.

    And maybe we should call each other each year to see if we still recognize who we’re talking to.

  2. Steve, first, last and in between I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad was obviously a huge influence on you. I have at least a small idea of how painful and frustrating (and yes, many other things) it must have been to watch him slowly go away. My sympathies.
    Thank you so much for those vitamin and supplement recommendations which I am adding to my shopping list for the week. For those readers who don’t know…Steve is a highly revered and respected physician in the central Ohio area and he’s generously offering us great advice here. If I may be so bold as to add to your shotgun list, Steve: keep reading and keep engaged. I guess that would come under mental gymnastics. I take a complicated route to and from certain destinations, particularly at night, one that involves several twists and turns and that all but forbids driving by rote. It helps.
    Oh, and about that conversation you had with your wife…I’ve done the same with mine. Thanks again.

  3. Hey Joe. I understand your concern, especially with your family history, but I think you should also add other questions to your calendar reminders. Questions like: Have I met someone new this week? When was the last time I discovered a new recording artist I like? When was the last time I had friends over for a party or dinner?

    You might consider looking less for the negatives and focusing more on ways to add quality to your life. I watch my parents closing tbeir experiences off “because we’re old.” That’s what scares me. Old age ain’t for sissies, but I don’t want to give up the things I once took great joy in simply because my mind tells me I should slow down.

    • Good morning, Jordan! I take your point, though I don’t look at my notes as focusing on the negatives any more than say, buying insurance, checking the garage floor for fluid leaks, or checking the bod for untoward lumps or growths is focusing on the negative. I consider it to be a warning that something might be sneaking up on me. As far as quality of life goes…if things got any better I’d need to change medications. My mind isn’t telling me to slow down — although there are times when it should — and my list is just to make sure that my mind is still operating. I look at it more as a positive.

    • I gotcha. I was thinking of my own situation and seeing my parents shut themselves off from things they normally would’ve jumped at. But no one knows how they’ll react til they come to that bridge.

      Have a good Saturday, my fine friend.

    • Jordan, any Saturday that I hear from you is automatically a good one. I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ continuing difficulty…what you describe is one symptom of depression as well as Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it’s hard to sort it out. Good luck my friend. I’m as close as your phone.

  4. Having watched my extremely intelligent and witty mother fade into the whispery gray of Alzheimer’s I share your concern, especially now that I turn 60 in a month. I think your notes are a good idea, I try to keep my brain tuned up, and of course writing is part of that process. The daily crossword doesn’t hurt either.

    • I’m sorry about your mother John, sounds like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree where the intelligence and wittiness is concerned. Love the crossword idea. I’d love to see a study sometime of a correlation, inverse or otherwise, between avid readers and Alzheimer’s patients.

    • Thanks. It was actually harder than I said, since I lost my dad – best storyteller I’ve ever known – to ALS the year before. In fact, I found out about their ailments in the same freakin’ phone call. (On Mother’s Day, no less.) But in a way, as awful as it was, it was sort of awesome at the same time. She became his hands, and he became her contact with the world. And when he died, she wasn’t really aware he was gone. As my sister the shrink said, “She’s in denial, and it’s working for her.” They were always a perfect couple – all kids think that, but it’s true – and as they neared their ends it became an almost eerie symbiosis.

    • John, I’m so sorry about that loss as well. You bring up another point — for another time — about how we can rattle right along with everything being okay (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and then sudden all of the wheels start to come off. Possibly the greatest wisdom I have passed to my children is the knowledge of how quickly everything can turn bad, and to be prepared for it, at least mentally. Thanks again for sharing.

  5. Your list isn’t a bad idea, but if you’re stricken with dementia, you may not be able to tell that you aren’t answering your questions accurately. You might consider using some computer games as a measure of mental acuity. I have a Sudoku app that keeps track of the amount of time it takes to solve the puzzle. I can watch my average minutes for change and have for the past several years. There are other games on the market that provide objective feedback over time and track different skills. It’s more accurate to use test measures than to rely on your memory to tell whether your memory is functioning well.


    • Kathy, first off kudos to you re: Sudoku as I can’t complete a puzzle to save my life. One problem with what you suggest, however, is that there are a number of other short and long term factors that might affect your time and accuracy for better and worse. I’m using those questions as a indication that something is wrong, rather than a measurement of function. A clinical evaluation is what I would consider to be the next step, once I start answering “yes” to questions. One example: a current clinical test used for Alzheimer’s is asking the subject to draw a clock face showing the time eleven o’clock. While it’s doubtful that such a test will be able to be used in twenty years (thanks to the prevalence of digital clocks) the inability of someone of my age or older to perform such a task provides a somewhat startling indication that something is amiss. Thanks!

    • Kris, I’m sorry about your mom. Thanks so much for that article link. I hope the treatment is able to be approved for us geezers sooner rather than later.

  6. Dear Joe, You are all a bunch of Babies. I turned 74 Jan. the first and just spent the morning with my 96 year old mother who kept telling me I was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, about something I didn’t even understand. She has worst days when she says nothing.
    You guys got ten years to get where I am, ten years to think positive thoughts, experience joy, and smiling more. you got someone by your side hopefully and can still drive at night. Maybe you have no fungus under your toe nails, hopefully no bad teeth they want to cap after a root canal, and filling an access in your jaw bone with some bone from a cadaver. Maybe you can still form a muscle without it falling off the top and sliding to the bottom where it will live in a hammock the rest of your life. And maybe you still have normal skin that is not dried out.
    I sit here and think about the five or six projects I just want to finish, but I have all these wonderful thoughts about new projects to sick my imagination on. Today I am well, and have no expectation of not being well and I write. But face it nothing last forever. Stop worrying about your train arriving at the station, stop your train and have the folks run in backwards. This is only a moment in time anyway, what’s with the dates anyway? Is making an date with your old self five years in the future really going to help anything? Time to us is like our writing. It’s always changing. I seem to constantly live in a world of rewrite. Enjoy yourself, spread your joy.

  7. Clint Eastwood’s new movie is breaking box office records this weekend and will likely be an Oscar-winner. He’ll be 85 this spring. What’s his secret? For one thing, he keeps working. He’s not interested in sitting in front of the TV. When I’m his age I hope to be just as active and creative. To get there, I eat healthy, exercise mind and body daily, pray, love, and oh yes, I adopted a Yorkie.

  8. Joe–
    Unable to take any real action to reduce or eliminate the risk of dementia, I prefer to believe–with some science-based data to support me–that mental activity of the kind required by writers is my treatment option of choice. I just have to hope that tinkering with sentences keeps pace with brain cells lost to Scotch before dinner.

  9. Barry —
    I was nodding sagely as I read through your comment and then wound up choking coffee all of the keyboard at your last sentence. I always heard that Scotch increased brain cells, rather than losing them. Get back to us on that one, will you? Thanks!

  10. Yikes, what a timely message.

    My father, who was starting to get dementia and was in a nursing home, decided he was going to buy a house and have two women who were at the nursing home constantly take care of him. Oddly enough, once we had the lawyer tell them to stop driving his truck and let them know his funds would be limited, they lost interest in him.

    I told my youngest son, if I ever start acting that foolish, to just put me in a home. “I’m serious. Do not allow me to run around free if I get that bad.”

    “Mom, relax. I’ll start looking at homes tomorrow.”

    “You’re not as amusing as you think, son.”

    Dad passed away in April at the age of 90. I spent two weeks with him in the nursing home. They let me stay in his room. I’ll always be thankful for that. He wanted to put on a fried chicken dinner for everyone in the home, so they allowed us to do that. He was very specific about what all he wanted served. I was heartened by his mental acuity. Then he was talking to me later and said, “I was surprised to see Mom there.” He thought his sister was his mother who had died 58 years ago.

    I cried.

    Yes, I worry about senility. I worry about not being able to take care of myself. I’ll be 63 this year. So, I’ve started doing things to take better care of myself. Vitamins, eating better etc. I try not to waste as much time as I used to. I realize time is growing shorter. I have a lot yet to accomplish.

    • Julie, thank you so much for sharing this story, so beautifully told, so happy and poignant. I would bet that in some ways those final two weeks were the best of his life. A lucky man, all things considered. Thanks again.

  11. I’ve reached the age of 73 1/2, Joe, and my mother has noticable signs of Alzheimer’s by the age of 70, so I think I’ll be okay. I have concerns for our children, but they’re still young enough for a cure to be found by the time they’re 70. — Suzanne J.

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