November 16, 2010

It happens to all of us if we live long enough.  We can see it happening to our aging friends.  And we feel it infecting us too when we walk into a room and wonder why we came in, or we see someone we know well, but can’t remember his/her name.  I thought of this today when talking to an aging friend I’ve known for about 4 years.  She’s been physically and mentally slipping during that time.  I feel like she keeps skipping beats during our conversations – forgetting words, mixing up names, re-telling me things.  I strain to figure out what she wants to tell me.

Thankfully, she is no longer driving and does have someone who comes to the house to help her with chores.  Sometimes she sounds unhappy and miserable with bad advice from her doctors and pressure from family members.  But sometimes she tells me she’s feeling great and getting back to her love — painting.  She’s an accomplished painter who has had her work in galleries.  Her love of painting is keeping her alive.  It gives her motivation and meaning in life.  She’s sure she’ll get better mentally and physically so she’ll be able to paint more.  I haven’t seen her recent work, so I really don’t know if her current artwork shows the effects of a mind that skips beats and wanders here and there.   It’s difficult to imagine a writer whose writing wouldn’t suffer when the mind skips beats, but perhaps some artists aren’t affected similarly.

I must admit it’s rather scary to see the small steps of a slipping mind – especially when it’s my mind.  And that comes at a time when my sight is blurring,  I’m asking “What?” more often, and I stand there for ages fumbling to open the plastic bags for fruit and vegetables at the supermarket.    It’s just normal, ordinary age deterioration.  But having seen a grandmother who became a mental vegetable and her daughter, my dear aunt, whose mind fogged over with Alzheimer’s, I know where brain deterioration can lead.

Physical exercise can definitely keep us more agile and stronger longer.  They say that exercising the brain helps too.  I envy friends who can put together puzzles, figure out word games, find the hidden vertical, horizontal, and diagonal words, and actually enjoy Sudoku.  I’m lousy at all those games.  But I remind myself that I’ve been dreadful at those games all my life.  Does my future brain power really depend upon them?

My mother’s favorite (although not original) saying in her old age was “Being old isn’t for sissies.”  That didn’t mean much to me then.  That’s one thing that’s beginning to come clearer to me now.

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