I just got back from visiting my mom. She’s getting up there in age, but she’s still in great physical shape. Here memory is going, however, and quickly. Watching her struggle through the day was heartbreaking, but I must also admit as a scientist, fascinating. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad (or insensitive) person to say that.
The brain is a strange thing. Short-term memories can be lost, but long-term memories remain, or just the opposite. My great-grandmother, when she finally passed away in her mid-nineties had lost all of her short-term and most of her long-term memories to the point that she no longer spoke English, only German, which was the language she had learned as a little girl before stowing-away on a ship to America when she was around ten. Sometimes people know their memory is going, sometimes they don’t, and they believe they’re still sharp as a knife when in reality they can’t remember anything that happened five minutes earlier. It’s amazing how little know about the brain, considering it’s what makes us what we are.
We have all sorts of ways to “work around” physical disabilities, allowing the individual to live a functional and fulfilling life. Our options for declining mental faculties aren’t so numerous, however. It’s apparent now that my mom developed a bunch of behavioral coping mechanisms that masked her decline over the past years and months, but those mechanisms are getting to be insufficient. It’s not clear what will happen to her in the coming months and years, but I wish there was a way to reverse it all. I’m sure there’s a beautiful speculative fiction story in here somewhere, but I’m not ready to find yet. By the time I do, I wonder if my mom will be able to read it.