Ralph had his yearly mental check up yesterday. A slow learner, after four years I have finally realized that there is no reason to bring up appointments ahead of time. So when he woke up at eight, I announced we had to be ready in two hours to head to Atlanta to see his doctor at Emory. Of course, Ralph was a little tense on the drive in, but less anxious than he would have been if he’d had more time to worry. And I didn’t have to have the following conversation in the car more than a few times.
Head or hands? he asked. (We have seen a dermatologist at Emory recently as well so asking this was a positive sign.)
What are they going to do?
Ask you some questions probably.
Will it take long?
I don’t think too long.
I am not looking forward to this.
I nodded but secretly I have come to look forward to our Emory visits with Nurse Practitioner Stephanie V. While Ralph gets his testing, Stephanie always meets with me alone for an update, a conversation that I find strangely comforting. She asks my impressions, and then lets me ramble a bit. Her advice tends to be straightforward and useful. She never fails to ask how I am doing. I always get not quite teary but close. I always leave feeling reassured that I am handling things better than I thought.
As for the appointment results… Amazingly, they showed exactly what I told Stephanie I’ve sensed: that his objective memory, for words for instance, seems to be holding steady; but that he seems to be having more difficulty carrying on conversations or activities like following directions that require more complicated processing.
In the testing Ralph actually improved his memory for words, remembering more animal names and more words beginning with the letter F. (At least that’s my memory of the results—in fact as soon as I leave Emory my own memory of what has been said becomes a bit of a blur.)
What dropped was his ability to connect the dots when he had to include numbers and letters, i.e., go from number to letter to number. The test, which he completed without errors last year in 70 seconds, took him 120 seconds this year with several mistakes. In other words he is having more trouble with more complicated linkage.
I am not sure how to read this reversal in strength and weakness and don’t think it matters too much. Basically, the holding pattern we have been in still holds and will keep holding until it doesn’t.