January 23, 2014

My Lousy Memory: Alzheimer's? Years of Booze?

As I look ahead, Alzheimer's remains my biggest fear. Even though I think I'm doing pretty well for an 84-year-old in most cognitive functions, I know I'm more forgetful than ever before.

For example, during a conversation with my housemates yesterday, it became apparent that I had forgotten letting recent guests use the master bedroom for an overnight stay, while I slept in another bedroom. The details came back to me only after Nimesh provided a series of hints.

Here's the scary part: This "fuzzy" incident occurred just about a month ago, when dear friends  returned from  Nepal and needed a place to stay for one night before settling into their new apartment in the suburbs. This threesome is my adopted family -- husband, wife and young son -- with whom I regularly stayed for weeks at a time at their house in Pokhara, Nepal, and in "John's room," too! How could I have forgotten their overnight stay here?

That lapse feels like more than just a "senior moment." But it didn't particularly bother me; I've grown accustomed to my forgetfulness. I read a book, see a movie, or go to a play. A week later, I won't recall many specifics.

The pattern isn't new. I've been forgetting stuff for years now. But it's hard not to wonder . . . is it the approach of Alzheimer's?

Maybe It's Just My Alcoholism
The January 15 issue of the journal "Neurology" offers another possibility. Researchers found that middle-aged men who were heavy drinkers showed memory decline up to six years sooner than moderate drinkers or abstainers. Their definition of heavy drinking was "more than two drinks a day". . . a threshold I would have regularly reached -- and passed -- at lunch! Fortunately, I haven't had an alcoholic drink since March, 1978 -- just shy of my 49th birthday.

So, I figured, maybe alcohol IS my memory culprit. Then I read the full story more carefully.

The report came from a 10-year University College London study of more than 7,000 male and female civil servants. The volunteers were tested between 1997 and 1999 when they had an average age of 56. Ten years later, they were retested.

As with all such studies, results can prove only association, not certain cause and effect.

The male heavy drinkers experienced a faster cognitive decline over the 10 years. The heaviest drinkers -- in their mid-60s when the study ended -- already showed memory function typical of people in their early 70s.

Here's the thing: those heavy drinkers also showed faster-than-normal declines in all other areas of cognitive function, not just memory. Except for my ever-increasing memory lapses, I think I'm doing pretty well in other areas..

So, maybe I can't blame the booze after all. Or maybe I can put my own spin on the study and say the booze only affected my memory. Or I can go back  to worrying about Alzheimer's!

Or maybe I can take the most sensible approach and stop all this pointless worrying about the unknown and unknowable future  and deal with today as best I can.


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