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Taking a Closer Look at Memory Loss

Worries about a family history of Alzheimer’s leads to an MRI and more prayers.

Edward Grinnan
Credit: Katye Martens Brier

This week I am getting an MRI of my brain (please, no jokes about “if they can find it”). I’ve mentioned that I am writing a book for Guideposts—my third—this one on Alzheimer’s and how it’s affected my family, especially on my mother’s side. 

I’ve shared with you my own fears about my short-term memory, what I call micro-memory, those maddening memory lapses of things I’ve done just seconds before. I’ve likened it to a program on your computer that usually runs seamlessly in the background and has developed some glitches. Does it portend something more dire? Or is it simply the normal cognitive degradation that comes with age? Or as Mick Jagger once sang, and here I’m really dating myself, “What a drag it is getting old.”

I visited an NYU neurologist and memory specialist, Dr. Joel Salinas, for a consultation. First this amazing coincidence (or was it?): When he was still at Harvard, Dr. Salinas was cited in Mysterious Ways magazine as an expert on empathy and actually did a Facebook Live session for us on the subject. (He has a condition called synesthesia, which enhances his feelings of empathy. You can read about it in his fascinating book Mirror Touch.) I didn’t realize this until right before the appointment when I happened to look him up. It immediately put me at ease, though of course I fretted over why his name hadn’t immediately rung a bell. More evidence of memory slippage? How could I have missed that?

I shared my concerns with him and how I’ve read that the earliest signs of dementia take hold years before a clinical diagnosis can be made. The damage to neurons is already under way and, as far as we know, unstoppable. Is there any way to know? If so, did I want to know? We talked about that too.  

We did some memory tests. I feel I did fairly well. I stumbled through some of the word memorization lists and had to be prompted, though I’m not sure I would have done any better 10 years ago. I didn’t pray first. I thought that would be cheating.

Dr. Salinas offered a provisional diagnosis of mild subjective cognitive impairment, meaning that my symptoms are largely self-reported but worthy of further investigation. Given my age and family history he felt it prudent to move forward with more testing, including the aforementioned MRI and a visit to a sleep clinic to see if I am having nocturnal disturbances that might be bothering my brain. 

Or maybe I’m just slowing down, though my wife Julee claims I still go through life like a buzz saw. 

I’ll let you know how the MRI goes. I’m a little nervous. Not about the test but what it might show. Probably nothing, but in this case I won’t think it’s cheating to pray.

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