Memory–Taking One Turn At A Time

 

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It’s a good thing I got my anger out in the last blog because the day after it posted Ralph and I spent an intensive 36 hours together on an all-work-no-play trip to Florida, and I needed all the patience I could find.

I had gone to Florida alone the week before, but Ralph came this weekend to help unload a truck’s worth of furnishings and supplies at the townhouse we’ve been renting out to vacationers since we bought it at an inflated price months before the 2008 Florida real estate crash.

Ralph wanted to do the driving initially, and I let him, although I “casually” reminded him repeatedly where to turn, where to exit, what speed to go. Of course, he doesn’t remember missing any turns on our previous car trip and I didn’t remind him. However, I did stupidly mention, as if in passing, that his sense of direction was not what it used to be. He took umbrage, declaring that he’d never been good with directions—a truth but one that doesn’t exactly address subtle but important shifts: his diminishment of confidence as a driver, his loss of what used to be ingrained routes and routines, like where the best gas station bathrooms and lunch-stops are, and more distressingly his inability to remember the basics. Why are we going there again? How long are we staying again? Isn’t there a town we usually go through?

I took over driving halfway down.Being behind the wheel was definitely more relaxing to me, and Ralph took a nap. We both arrived at the townhouse ready to work.

“This is a lot of schlepping,” he kept repeating with a certain delight—Christian Southerner with a Jewish wife, Ralph loves his Yiddish phrases—as we hauled boxes up and down three flights of stairs for hours at a time. “Why are we doing this again?”

Each time he asked, I explained that our neighbor’s pipes burst last November flooding our townhouse; that insurance covered some but not all the repairs; that we were putting our place on the market since it was newly renovated and looking its best.

Basically I kept repeating the same long dissertation about the decisions we, i.e. I, had already made. But the longer and more complete my explanation, the more anxious Ralph became and the more convoluted his questions. What again, how again, why again? That word again, so friendly and jocular on his lips, so painful in my ears.

It should have been obvious but not until we were driving away from the townhouse, did I have my embarrassingly belated epiphany: I was explaining way too much. Ralph, who used to go into the longest, most complex analysis of any plan he was making, whether to buy a new car or plant a garden or go out to dinner, cannot handle big picture plans any more.

I heard myself yammering on about where did he want to have dinner and whether he wanted it before or after we bought porch chairs, when I suddenly realized the obvious: Loss of the past is not the worst problem caused by cognitive impairment. Loss of contemplating the future is far more disruptive. Ralph becomes anxious because he cannot hang onto the amount of when-where-how-why information I keep throwing at him.

So I have stopped (well, until I backslide). Ralph doesn’t need to know all the details about what we are doing two hours from now, let alone next week. He only needs to know when I see a turn coming up so he can take it. Then, once we are around the bend, we can start looking for the next road side attraction.

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6 thoughts on “Memory–Taking One Turn At A Time

  1. Yes, that’s the crux of the matter — determining how much and what information to give, then actually remembering to put it into practice. A guideline on how many facts to provide could be how many steps in a sequence can he retain for processing? Keeping it simple is, indeed, key.

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  2. Alice, I keep having to learn that same thing – keep it really, really simple. So, at my best, the answer gets shorter and shorter after each repeat of a question. It’s pitiful, as you point out – the joy of conversation is the richness, the twists and turns, the details – that we once were able to enjoy with our partners. I tell ya.
    Thanks for writing.

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  3. Oh Alice, I am learning from you! I never thought of it that way, that loss of contemplating the future is much worse.

    The back and forth between you and Ralph sounds so familiar to me. I am slowly learning to not give a million details, don’t provide a lot of choices when it is too confusing. Simply make decisions myself as needed and provide only the most basic of information as needed. I have to remember that we BOTH get stressed out over these complex, detailed interactions.

    Thanks for writing. It really helps to read about your experiences. I feel less alone!

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    1. I am so touched by your response. Actually just explained to Ralph tomorrow’s schedule and then realized it was too much information so told him not to worry it was all written down on the calendar…..

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