For the last year and a half now, I’ve been attempting to faithfully record the types of cognitive errors I notice myself making. At the same time, I’ve been researching the differences between normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia. So it’s about time I made the call and diagnosed myself, don’t you think?
Making a diagnosis like this isn’t a 1-time thing nor is it an all-or-nothing thing. It’s a snapshot of where I stand today. It’s not predictive of where I will be a year from now, or ten years from now. It’s more like an annual check-up than it is a definitive conclusion.
Before the ‘big reveal,’ though, I thought I’d summarize the range of mistakes I’ve previously documented in this blog. Here you go:
S1E2. Short-Term Memory Peek-A-Boo: walking into a room and forgetting why I went there; being able to hold fewer items in short-term memory (e.g., a 10-digit telephone number) than before.
S1E4. Mistakes On The Journey: doing things without intending to; tip-of-the-tongue word-finding problems; saying a word that isn’t the one I intended; not checking things after I’ve completed them so I don’t catch the errors I’ve made.
S1E5. Testy & Edgy: irritability; lowered frustration tolerance.
S1E6. Did I Do That?: Not remembering doing something right after I did it.
S1E8. Splotchy Thinking: more examples of doing unintended things; more examples of not remembering recent events.
S1E15. Vivid Memories That Aren’t: clear recollections of past events that turn out to be false.
S1E16. The Name Game: Not remembering the names of people I knew well years ago.
S1E18. 2 Runs, 4 Hits, 1 Error: Errors made in social situations.
S1E20. Dear Diary…: Errors in completing complex tasks.
S1E22. Making Coffee Isn’t Hard…Is It?: More problems with complex tasks and routines.
S1E24. Scary & Scarier: Breakdowns in implementing well-learned routines.
S1E28. Potholes On Open Highways: a variety of mistakes including memory, word-finding, and getting distracted.
S1E33. Poor Judgment: exactly what the title says!
S1E35. Mini-Miscues: A collage of errors, including visuo-spatial challenges.
S1E43. No Comment: Talking less in social situations.
S2E7. More Mistakes On The Journey: a grab bag of recent errors.
S2E12. When Your Fact-Checker Doesn’t: problems with executive function and meta-cognition.
S2E18. Subtle Symptoms?: Things that aren’t really problems now, but could become problematic if they worsen.
(You can read all of these episodes by going to the home page and scrolling down: www.MistakesOnTheJourneyToNowhere.com.)
Reviewing these episodes in order to write this post was pretty sobering. It seemed really bad at the time and I remember being nervous about all the ways I was failing. But I don’t feel that way anymore, even though I recognize that I am still committing most of these categories of errors. What changed?
For one thing, I realized that none of the mistakes that were dogging me had serious consequences. When playing schoolyard basketball, we used to say ‘No blood, no foul’ and these cognitive ‘fouls’ aren’t drawing any ‘blood.’
Secondly, I think I’ve become used to committing this range of errors. They were pretty shocking when I first focused my attention on them, but now, not so much. When I do a mental belly flop I’m more likely to react with a ‘Meh’ than an ‘OMG!’
Finally, I’ve gotten better at compensating for a wide variety of them. In most cases, the duration of a screw-up is very short (measured in just a few seconds) and quickly corrected.
So here’s my bottom line as of July 8, 2022 as I’m just a few days short of 71½:
I definitely don’t have dementia. This is primarily based on the fact that none of the errors I’m committing have serious consequences or affect my ability to live independently.
For the same reason, I don’t think I meet the criteria for a mild cognitive impairment, either: there are no noteworthy consequences to my miscues. Even Sally, who is uniquely adept at spotting my screw-ups, would agree that they are mainly trivial in nature.
By process of elimination, then, it would appear that what I’ve been documenting is normal aging. Not only do my errors fall within a harmless range, but I’m maintaining pretty good executive functioning (e.g., writing this blog every week) and I am still able to find creative solutions to problems.
So that’s the diagnosis I’m going with for now: normal aging. And if I’m correct about that, then it’s both reassuring and terrifying to know that one’s brain circuits can misfire so frequently and you still get to call yourself ‘normal!’