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A moment of forgetfulness can be scary

Have you ever stood alone in the kitchen and said aloud, "Why did I come in here?" You probably wonder, if you are in the Social Security range, "Have I got it, or is it just a strange happening?" There will be 20 friends to assure you that there is nothing to worry about. However, you do worry, and it nags at your mind and never lets up. In fact, you begin to question everything you do, and every little ordinary glitch becomes a drastic diagnosis. You begin to give things away and make big decisions about who will get the old cut glass pitcher that your mother hated and has now become a family treasure.

You cannot ignore this problem that is rapidly coloring your life, and you are constantly saying, "I am going to put this out of my mind," and then -- wham! -- you are back in the kitchen not knowing why you are there. It seems to be happening more frequently.

These are private things, which only you know unless you tell anyone who will listen, in hopes of hearing a denial or assurance that it happens to them, too. You always get both, because, in fact, it does happen, and they, too, are scared to death that they, in this lovely time of their life, will become a burden to their spouse or children. It is a fiendish thought that invades our placid lives when we least expect it.

The last 10 years have been, to me, the very best period of my life. True, my middle has enlarged, my hair is thinner, my back is not as straight, and I cannot see worth a darn. I had at one time a sweet singing voice, and now I croak, but that is from all of those cigarettes I smoked and still remember with joy every time I have a cup of coffee.

I cannot climb stairs nor walk as fast as I once did. Running the vacuum is an impossible feat. However, I can still wash the dishes, so life goes on. I almost fall over the cat a few times a year, and the dog has learned to run when he sees me coming, so he has mastered the art of living with a person who staggers a bit every once in a while. He does not seem to mind, and he is no teenager, either. Yet, this canine has one great advantage: I do not think he knows about the good old Southern "old-timer's" disease.

I have missed a couple of appointments with the hairdresser, a person I greatly respect, and her time is valuable to me, too. All I could do was apologize, and she remained her charming self. It was when I could not remember the road to take coming back from Virginia that really almost did me in. I had to call Kate to ask her what I was doing, and she was kind and very careful not to upset me but to explain that I had to go first over 81 and then to 77. When she told me, I remembered, but the damage was done, and it really had a terrible effect on my life and the life of the person in the car with me. It was then that I began to believe that I was certainly not in the center of the road, but way left and falling in the ditch.

I talked to an ENT physician, and he recommended a neurologist in Lancaster. I called his office, and a charming person talked quietly and very confidentially to me about the process of being interviewed. She told me that the doctor would conduct a few simple exams and talk to me and, in the end, if he considered a problem to be present, he would send me to the hospital for more tests, and in that way find out exactly what the problem was. I made the appointment and then argued with myself every day as to whether I should call and cancel. It seemed reasonable to think that the kitchen problem was over. After all, I had not stood alone questioning my location for a few weeks.

I kept the appointment and it has, in a way, made my life more comfortable. I know I passed every question asked. However, my drawing ability was a flop. Even that did not bother me, because when the doctor asked me to copy two boxes that he had drawn, my right thigh-high stocking was beginning to slip, and I needed to get out of there in a hurry. Just before leaving, he told me the only thing that I had failed was the drawing, and I knew why that had happened.

It was a day well worth the money, the trip and the time it took. It was a long examination. I answered questions, touched my nose and the top of my head. I touched his two upheld fingers and I could squeeze his hand. I repeated words in the proper order and I learned a lot about getting older. I know that I can still swallow with ease, and I do not stagger as much as I thought I did.

Forgetting the highway number was a lesson in understanding the aging process and the effect that stress has on everyone. After the exam, I actually felt pretty good about myself, even when a few hours later I was again back in the kitchen wondering why. Then I remembered my friend saying, "It is not Alzheimer's, dear, it is only "sometimer's."

In the dark recesses of my mind, I know that living a long time presents problems that we never thought we would have to face. However, they come gradually, and soon they are a common part of our lives. We grow accustomed to pains that in the beginning were shocking, and now they are just another small annoyance that we live with daily. Forgetfulness does not mean that our family members will become strangers to us in a disoriented world. Normal forgetfulness is just another small annoyance of our everyday existence. So, if you do not remember your neighbor's name and you can still recognize her face, just smile and call her "darling."