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Lest We Forget, Aging Has Its Downside

Health Memo Pad

Lest We Forget, Aging Has Its Downside


I am standing at the front door, locked out of my own house. If this were a movie, it’d be raining. Thankfully, this isn’t, so it isn’t. But the reality is embarrassing enough without any Hollywood embellishments.

You see, we have this digital lock. To open it, you input a numeric code. We bought it months ago and I’ve been using it without incident. But now, standing out here in the dark, I am, suddenly and for no apparent reason, stuck. After a moment, with more hope than confidence, I punch in some numbers.

Some wrong numbers. Instead of the lock disengaging, the keypad displays an intimidating red “x.” I search my brain for the right numbers, but it’s locked tighter than the door. I can’t remember.

I find myself saying that a lot lately as I creep toward the 30th commemoration of my 30th birthday. Reminds me of an old expression: “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Don’t know who said that. Maybe I once did but if so, I don’t remember. Indeed, the list of things I don’t remember is growing long.

There is, for instance, my employee ID number, necessary for filing expense reports and viewing pay stubs. (Yes, they pay me for this. I’m as surprised as you are.) But it’s not just numbers. The other day, I was telling this guy about taking my granddaughter to the circus. I’m going on and on about this stuff I bought her that’s fluffy and sugary and it comes in clouds of pink and blue and you eat too much and it makes you sick. Finally, mercifully, he says, “cotton candy?” A few weeks ago, I have to ask a colleague what’s that word for a person who receives money after the death of a family member. “Heir?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say to her. “Duh,” I say to myself.

Numbers and words are bad enough. But I also walk into rooms for reasons I can’t recall, open browsers and can’t remember why.

As the author of a novel (Before I Forget) about a man with Alzheimer’s Disease, I regard this warily. But somewhere in my research for that book, I ran across a doctor — forget his name — who said if you have the presence of mind to wonder if you have the disease, you don’t have the disease. Alzheimer’s is not about forgetting where you laid the keys. It’s about forgetting what keys are for.

But if I don’t have Alzheimer’s Disease, it seems apparent that I do have Oldtimer’s Disease, and an advanced case, at that. OD won’t kill you, but it will frustrate you near about to death.

Thank goodness my mind is still a steel trap for the important stuff.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Wemble June 16, 2014

    Well, one thing about getting older is that it beats the alternative even if there are fewer grains of sand in the top half of the hourglass.

    As far as memory goes my trick is not to think about what I am trying to remember and it usually pops into my head. Trying too hard is not always a formula for success.

    1. DhannaReaderaci June 17, 2014

      my buddy’s sister makes $87 every hour on the internet . She has been
      unemployed for 6 months but last month her payment was $19402 just working on
      the internet for a few hours. go right here M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  2. FireBaron June 16, 2014

    Yeah, I had the 30th anniversary of my 30th birthday a couple of months ago. Add to that the potential specter of CJD-V as a result of being stationed in the UK on and off during the 80s when I was in the Navy, and I have no idea how much longer I will be lucid.

  3. pisces63 June 16, 2014

    Love this column, I just had the 35th anniversary of my 30th birthday. i thought it was just me when i forget completely, comething I use everyday like my log in at work. I have literally sat at my computer, hands on keys, looking at them like foreign entities drawing a complete blank. They tell us to not to write them down, yeah, right. I peak and there it is. I can forget my employee number. luckily, it is the same date as one of my children’s birthday. Wemble, so true. When i deliberately think of something, it isn’t there. When I back ukp and just do, my fingers remember. The worse for me was wanting to read and opening my NOOK and forgetting why, that quickly and what I was about to read.

    1. dpaano June 24, 2014

      Pisces: Try reading a book and then an hour later not remembering what it was all about. I have that problem on a daily basis….I guess my excuse is that I just read so fast that the story doesn’t get etched into my brain as it should (does that sound okay to you?). Hey, it’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

      1. pisces63 June 25, 2014

        Sounds just fine to me. I will back you up one hundred percent. My thing about reading, I start a book today, read about 4/5 chapters, put it away for a few days and go back and have forgotten what i had read and read over. Sometimes I am too stubborn to do that, so I wing it and believe it or not it comes back to me, sort of…..Buy that?

  4. neenta June 16, 2014

    I’m (a little!) older than you and can sympathize. I got a big boost a few years ago when I was still teaching and one of the kids did a science project on the aging brain and memory. He found (or so he told me!) that part of the memory problem is that our brains are so FULL (of wisdom?) when we’re older that it’s like a computer — it runs more slowly because it has more info to sort through. I was NOT his science teacher, so he had no vested interest in telling me that, either. Considering the alternative, we’re OK — and I always enjoy your column.

  5. awakenaustin June 16, 2014

    As I have come to expect, another excellent column. Still one of my favorites, he always makes me think, often providing me with a context and perspective I did not have before.

    I try to get some pleasure out of the irony of being able to accurately describe in detail an object when I cannot quite come up with its name

  6. jointerjohn June 16, 2014

    The thirtieth anniversary of my thirtieth birthday is coming up in two weeks. I still have a mind like a steel trap, but unfortunately the spring is broken.

  7. wjca June 16, 2014

    When this happens to me, I embrace an analogy from the computer world:

    Computers have big databases full of information. To be able to access the right bit of information quickly, those databases have indexes. But as more and more stuff gets added, the index gets out of data and therefore less and less useful. And when you can’t find something in the index, you have to scan thru the entire database item by item — which takes a while. And longer and longer as the database gets larger.

    I think it is similar with the brain. All the things you want to remember are actually in there. But the index loses things, and your mind has to work thru everything its got until it finally locates the bit that you want. Which is why you wake up at 4 AM (maybe a couple of days later, if you are old enough to have lots of stuff to remember) saying “That’s what I was trying to remember!” So much easier to be 20, and know less stuff.

    For computer databases, the solution is to stop and rebuild the index occasionally. Unfortunately, if anyone has figured out how to do that for our brains, the word has not gotten around. So I remember everything . . . just sometimes not real fast.

  8. tdm3624 June 16, 2014

    Lighthearted and humorous. Made me smile today. Thank you Mr. Pitts.

  9. Muckety June 16, 2014

    Among the many humbling aspects of aging: One of the few things I remember as I approach 60 is my dismissal in my younger days of those who were less smart or less well read. I’m not proud of that. Nor am I in a position any longer to pass judgment. My struggle to remember words and concepts I have long known, let alone to learn new ones, has become a sort of penance.

  10. holyreality June 16, 2014

    I hate to say(write) this but I like you too much to let you keep joking about it, I know, better to laugh than cry…
    You appear to have the preliminary stages of dementia, I recommend a visit to your physician who can refer you to a specialist.
    Dementia is a progressive disease, and it is not too late to admit to yourself that you are human and can treat your condition instead of just accepting it.

    I share your symptoms, my job requires remembering details and tasks, I closely monitor these lost memories, and hope I never need to see my own specialist.

  11. dpaano June 24, 2014

    I can relate….I just celebrated the 47th anniversary of my 21st birthday, and it was galling!!! When I was a kid, I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to be an adult and be older…..it was all a lie!!! There’s NOTHING good about getting older. Just when you think you have time to do all those things you thought about doing in your youth, your body just says “NO!!!” I think God made us backward….we should have been old first and then gotten younger so that when we retired, we could enjoy doing things. Someone screwed up….not sure who, but they did! Being old is NOT fun!! It’s a real pain, and I mean that literally!


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