My neurologist recently started me on a drug that’s supposed to help suppress my cursed daily migraines. As with all such concoctions, this one comes with an alarming sheaf of side effects. Among them are weakness, dizziness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, tingling of the hands/feet, weight loss (no, I won’t sell you any), depression, memory problems, nervousness, slow/unsteady movement, speech/language problems, bone pain/breakage, fast/slow/irregular heartbeat, eye pain, chest pain, difficulty staying awake, rash, swelling, and trouble breathing. And those are just the entertaining ones. I’d be worried, but I’m too tired / weak / dizzy / confused / depressed to think.
I find myself most concerned about the difficulty concentrating, since it’s kind of important to my job to have my wits about me. I’ll bet it’s important to your job, too, especially if your job involves heavy machinery. Mine does not, but it does require me to make a certain amount of sense as I go about my day.
So I was both relieved and apprehensive when I came across a self-administered memory test in a well respected medical journal. Called “Test Your Memory,” it’s a simple quiz you can take in the privacy of your home, designed to reveal if you might have the early stages of dementia. I decided to take the test myself. How hard could it be?
Please write your full name So far, so good. Humans are so egotistical, I’ll bet that’s the last thing to go. Today is ____day. Thursday. Got it. Today’s date is the ___ of ____, 20__. Okay, not so easy. There are days, no pun intended, when I’m not so sure what day it is. Especially if we’ve had a Monday holiday. Or if it’s early in the month, or early in the year. Between you and me, I’m still not used to this century.
How old are you? I have no clue. Well, I’ve got a vague idea. But that’s always been hard, since I was born in December. I feel like I was actually born the year after I was born, if you see what I mean. I used to date this guy who was born in January of the year I was born, and he believed we were, therefore, the same age, whereas I insisted, to the contrary, that I was as good as a year younger. Factor in this ridiculous turn of the century, and my pathetic lack of math skills, and I can’t figure my age without a calculator. Have you seen the t-shirt that reads, “I’m an English major. You do the math”? That’s me.
Please copy the following sentence: Good Citizens Always Wear Stout Shoes. Please read the sentence again and try to remember it. (Okaaaaay.) Who is the Prime Minister? WHAT?? Something tells me this is a British test. I could be in trouble here. However, I’m a citizen of the world. So, ahem: Gordon Brown. Do I get extra points?
In what year did the 1st World War start? 1914. Definitely a British test. They will remember this because they got bombed. We fought in that war, but it was “Over There.” There’s nothing like carpet bombing of your own country to burn a fact into your brain. (My husband now nudges me and says, “They didn’t get bombed in WWI.” And that song was from WWII. Oh, never mind.)
Then there’s a bunch of math, which they call “sums.” Forget it. If I can’t do it now, I can’t do it when my mind turns to mush.
Please list four creatures beginning with “s,” e.g. “shark.” Okay. Okay. Um. It took me and my husband, holders of three masters’ and one doctorate between us, five minutes to come up with squirrel, sparrow, squid, and shrimp. Why is a carrot like a potato? Because my mother always served them with pot roast. Why is a lion like a wolf? Because they are wild animals.
Then you have to identify the parts of a man’s shirt in a picture, which I can’t show you, but it’s stuff like a tie, lapels, button, pocket, etc. Please join the circles together to form a letter (ignore the squares). Again, I can’t show you this one, but trust me, it’s easy if you have your wits about you.
Please draw a clock face, put the numbers 1 – 12 and place the hands at 9:20. This is one of those tasks, I find, that if you think about it too hard, you may not be able to complete. Because there is no 20 on an analog clock. So be forewarned – keep using analog clocks, or some doctor will make you do this someday, and you’ll be sunk.
And finally: Without turning back the page, please write down the sentence you copied earlier. You know, about what good citizens wear. Come on! You can do it! It’s very British sounding.
I can’t say how I did, because I had a massive headache when I tried it and I also had help from my husband and then my daughter, and we were all making fun of the whole thing, even though it is, at heart, a deadly serious thing. My own mother had Alzheimer’s, and I sat in a doctor’s office with her while she struggled to complete a similar test.
My only consolation is that any witlessness I might display as I embark on my experiment with yet another medication to whip these headaches into submission is simply a side effect and not anything more sinister. In the meantime, I’m cramming for my test. I need more “S” animals in my memory box, for one thing. Seal! Shrew! Spider! Skunk! Swallow-tailed butterfly!