Thursday, April 04, 2013

Or Am I Losing My Mind?

When you get to be my age, a lot of little worries start creeping in that you've never had time to think about before, what with child-rearing and career-doing and life-living. A lot of internet and print and broadcast space is given over to impending financial doom of retiring (ha! if ever!) Baby Boomers, but that's not what creepy-crawls under my skin in the deep, dark hours of night. What scares me about the future is the very real boogie man: dementia.

Both my mother and her mother had dementia. Daddy used to call my grandmother the Goddess of Confusion, which was correct on several fronts, I reckon. When Mother disappeared into the disease, I used to jokingly tell my daughter "Hey, this will be me in a few years. Get used to it." Not for years and years, though, right? A cure for all that by then, I'm sure. Right?

But I'm not so sure lately, especially after reading Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind . The book is about Jennifer White, a former surgeon who's sliding into dementia. Since White's the one telling the story, it's sometimes lucid, but mostly it's all confusion and misunderstanding. The focus of the story is the murder and mutilation of her best friend (did she do it? how can we trust what she tells us?), but for me the real impact is trying to follow the woman's line of thinking (or lack thereof) about her career, her family, the murder.

As close as I was to dementia with Mother, LaPlante's book let me see how easily things can get turned around in the mind of someone who is losing rational thought. I completely understood where White was coming from. It's like a house of mirrors in the head, with lots of disjointed pieces and reflections that are only partly true.

I think I still have my mind. I write and work and do crosswords and sudokus and read and walk and take vitamins and eat a lot of fish. But if I'm predisposed to dementia, will any of that help? My only hope is that I take after Daddy and not Mother. Of course, while Daddy didn't have dementia, his body failed him miserably, thanks to diabetes. So. Sheesh. Is it better to have dementia and be physically healthy, or have all your marbles and physical deterioration and pain? I don't see a "None of the Above" offered.

The real burden of dementia is on those left behind, the much-loved folks the person no longer remembers. Financially and emotionally it can be devastating for family members, and while I still have a bit of a brain, that's what troubles me most. Sources tell us that it's the cost of dementia that will over-burden the health care system in the next 30-40 years. No shit. If I'm predisposed to this thing, how do I make preparations now to alleviate as much of that emotional/financial burden as possible? Oy. No answers.

Sorry. Now I've foisted my old-lady fears on you, when I started out just to recommend Turn of Mind. It's a great story; I mean, who did kill Amanda? The writing is superb. So superb that it gave me a window into what dementia must be like. The only upside I see is that this blog will get progressively interesting as my mind flecks away in the future. Pure entertainment value. Hang on!