Alzheimer’s Clinical Trial Number 12

I am in another ALZ study. This is an actual longitudinal study—no mystery pill or mystery procedure. They just contact me once a year and give me a cognitive test. I just took the first one.

In many respects, I have a remarkable memory. In other respects, my memory is terrible. I never remember the date. Thank goodness for cell phones. They remember everything. I think I have dyscalculia which is like dyslexia with math. I only remember the easy multiplication tables, 2, 5, 10 and a few others. I didn’t master an analog watch until I was about 14. I can still mess up if I am tired or distracted.

But, I can tell you in detail the plot line and nuances of a book or movie I saw thirty years ago. I remember stories. That’s why I love history. It’s just one grand, tragic, lugubrious story or many stories depending on how you look at it.

I also do really well on the kind of cognitive test this new study gave me. They told me a story about a cafeteria worker who was mugged on State Street. She reported it at the police station and told them that she had four kids, the rent was due and they needed to buy groceries. The cops took up a collection to help her. I don’t remember her name nor the street name for the police station but I remember that I was told them in the story. It helps that I have been told this story many times during various cognitive tests.

They asked me to list as many fruits and vegetables as I could in one minute. That’s easy—go to the grocery store in your mind and walk around describing what you see. Then they asked me to list animals—also easy, list pets, then go to the farm and finally the zoo. If you still have time, there are wild places, oceans, jungles, deserts.

They also gave me lists of numbers up to seven numbers long, like 365218. Sometimes they asked me to repeat it back as told to me. Then they asked me to repeat it backwards, 812563. Lastly, they asked me to put the numbers in order, lowest to highest, 123568. I got them all right, every one.

Many memory experts say that remarkable memories can be made by creating a memory palace and placing objects in it that you want to remember. I don’t consciously do that and, I think I might find the palace itself distracting as I would be constantly redecorating. 

I do think, however, that I innately do something like that. A story is a memory palace to me as I watch the characters travel through it. Naming things simply involves going in your mind to the memory palace where these things already exist.

Remembering lists of numbers is something else. I have to close my eyes when they read the numbers to me. I don’t know if it’s to block out distraction or some sort of memory palace. I know that I can see the numbers as they are told to me, not see them like I am looking at something in real life. It’s more like eyelid movies as the author, Ken Kesey, used to say.

So, create your own synesthesia and you might have a better memory. Maybe all this will make my memory more resilient as I age. Now if it will only stay with me for the rest of my life.