is it alzheimer's disease?

today i searched fruitlessly for a particular pen. i needed it for an artwork i was drawing. pigma brush pen

only this pen would do! (though this is not an advertisement!)

i looked everywhere...the kitchen table where i do this work and the pen holders (obvious), the cutlery drawer, the kitchen thingy drawer, various desk drawers (less obvious, but possible). finally, i succumbed to the possibility that i might have tossed it, unthinkingly, into one of several rubbish bins (also possible).

after carefully, mindfully searching, to no avail, i concluded the pen had gone to the fourth dimension where it would live (along with single socks, various keys and a pair of sunglasses) until it decided to re-join me.

resignedly, i sat down again to draw and opened a pen, one that would suffice, but not as well ,and would demand more effort to get the effect i wanted.

i removed the cap and (as you have already guessed) there it was, in my hand, ready to go to work! i had looked at the collection of pens on the table five, bloody times and it wasn’t there!!!! arghhhh!

a big sigh of relief.

and then the question...is it alzheimer’s disease?

it seems that every slight slip of the memory cogs can bring forward this question. we try to joke about it, but in reality, fear lies behind the attempts at humour. this fear seems to be have over-taken cancer and heart disease as the biggest fear among those of us who are ageing. the prospect of loss of control seems more frightening than chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. the thought that we might not be able to recognise those we love or we might behave in seemingly irrational ways appears to be more frightening than open heart surgery.

in her 2016 book this chair rocks: a manifesto against ageism, ashton applewhite tells us that only 4% of americans over 65 live in nursing homes. “90% of the remainder can think just fine.” she assures us that the vast majority of older americans are “slowed somewhat but fully capable of finding their slippers sooner or later and making their way in the world.” i imagine the same is true, to a large extent, in the UK and other developed countries.

while 4% of the over 65s in the US is a large number of people, it is still a small proportion of the total. and, according to applewhite, only 10% of the over 85 population live in nursing homes.

so why the fear? why the horror stories? there is no doubt that alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are painful, distressing conditions. yet it is the anxiety about them that the true epidemic. i have yet to encounter someone over 65 who does not have this anxiety. i would venture a guess that the vast majority of the ageing population is plagued by it. and while public education about these conditions is welcome, it feeds the fear in those of us who will never live with them.

certainly it behooves us all to engage in whatever precautions and practices we decide are necessary to prevent dementia. at the same time it is in our best interest to tame the beast of the anxiety about it. and it is here that the process of conscious ageing steps in. we can observe the anxiety, stand witness to it, acknowledge it and breathe our way through each time it arises. we can locate the anxiety somewhere in our body and sigh into it. we can use whatever helpful self-soothing, techniques we know. we can acknowledge that we are powerless over the future and commit to living fully in the present.

next time i “lose” something or can’t remember when i’m meeting a friend for lunch or have to look for my slippers i will breathe into the process, let go of whatever amount of anxiety i can at the time. and i will remind myself that i am part of the great 96% that does not live in a nursing home right now.

now where did i put my slippers?

slippers silly