Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife

i-ae1ebc7d68ff24ba44163ca44645066e-memory loss book.jpg I was recently sent a book for review-Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife. It's an informative book by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin chronicling her struggle with memory loss and subsequent journey to explore drug and non-drug treatments. I found it a good read and even witty at times. It highlights a condition that many people struggle with as they age: memory loss and attention failure.

When signs of memory loss and attention failure manifest in midlife most people fear an onset of Alzheimer's disease is at hand.

Alzheimer's is a complex disease afflicting more than 5 million people in the United States. A great analogy for the disease was given in this 2000 TIME magazine article:

Imagine your brain as a house filled with lights. Now imagine someone turning off the lights one by one. That's what Alzheimer's disease does.

Memory loss and its occasional progression into diseases like Alzheimer's can be difficult not only on the person experiencing it but also on the lives of those close to the individual.

I was very moved by this entry from a blog called 'Nobody Important' about the author's personal experience acting as "next of kin" for a widower friend who has no relatives. In the entry she writes:

This has been the saddest journey for me. To see this man, who was a professor of Pharmacy at the university, decline so completely over these past seven years has been tragic. His world is so narrow now: he can't read or watch TV. He no longer has any interest in music, which was his greatest pleasure....Although there is no physical reason why he cannot walk, he has forgotten how and now he has become too weak to do so. How soon is he going to forget how to eat, how to swallow? He has to be fed, for he is no longer able to do this for himself....The other day, when I went to see him, he wheeled right past me, even when I spoke to him. He doesn't know who I am. This was the first time that this had happened. He has long forgotten my name, although we have been friends for 46 years. But he always knew that he knew me and gave me a big smile. Funnily enough, he is still relatively articulate, although what he says makes no sense.

While not all memory loss will lead to Alzheimer's it is still difficult to deal with and can have damaging effects on one's personal and professional life. When memory loss and attention failure start to manifest in midlife some people, like Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, believe that not all is lost. As she puts it in her book, "you can fight it and win."

More on the book can be found here.

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I've heard about this book. It is amazing how memory fades. As a writer, I have relied on my good memory all my life. Now, I can't remember simple facts I used to know. Scary.

I wrote this comment before on another blog but I can't remember where (!). Anyway, I ordered this book on Amazon when the author was interviewed on GMA - I ordered while she was talking so I wouldn't forget (!). People always comment on how quickly I respond to e-mails and return phone calls and how efficient I am. What they don't realize is that it is a survival mechanism. Do it while I am thinking about it because the second it isn't on the screen in front of me, it as though it never happened. I used to have an iron-clad memory with split-second retrieval ability. Used to drive my husband crazy (I remembered every word and every detail of every transgression). Now I am driving him crazy by reading this book aloud to him. He's finally developing empathy for my frustration and anger at his not listening to me and having to repeat everything multiple times, because now I can't remember what he told me. Or even IF he told me. At least I have the decency to apologize, and say I don't remember.

There's one thing she doesn't answer that I'd really like to know. Why can't I forget bad things, but good things are damned near impossible to hold onto? I don't mean major trauma. I mean the daily crap. Why does my brain hold onto this garbage so tenaciously?

Anyway, the book is about the author's quest to figure out what is actually wrong, and along the way she uses herself as a guinea pig. Scary. Nothing she came up for herself applies to me even remotely except the thyroid thing, and what I read in that chapter really hit home so I am going to be tested.

Still, lots of things gave me assurance (if you can't remember where your keys are, that's fine but if you look at a key and don't know what it does or even that it is a key....). And she confirmed what I already suspected - storing everything I know in this and other machines is letting my brain get lazy. I used to say (when practicing law) that there is way too much to memorize, and it isn't as though all the law books in the world are going to disappear tomorrow, so don't worry about memorizing. Well now, I say no point in memorizing because I can find it (on my hard drive or on via google or via online research tools) in a nanosecond...so don't worry about memorizing. Well, my brain just doesn't have to work anymore, so it doesn't.

This is all new to me (including writing in this thing). Some examples in hope someone can tell me if I'm in trouble. I sit in the car looking at the dash and don't remember what I am supposed to do. When trying to use the blinkers, I keep using the headlights button and it turns off my headlights. If it starts to rain, no clue how to turn the wipers on. Trying to leave the street where I live, waiting to get going, pushing the gas and nothing is happening. Turns out I was pushing on the brake. Cannot remember words. Writing them - simple words usually - like who, or they, or when. Long hard words that I used to pride myself on knowing how to spell, I have to look up in the dictionary. At the time of Katrina - absolutely could not come up with the name of the city, New Orleans. Every time I had to run through other places containing two words but not New Orleans. Des Moines, Baton Rouge, San Francisco, San Juan, San Antonio, and others. Cannot remember from one minute to the next. If there is any pause in the conversation, I have to ask what were we talking about. Cannot remember the month when I have to write the date. Rack my brain, try to figure if it is summer or winter, or whose birthday was just last week. I always come up with this one eventually but the New Orleans thing lasted weeks and weeks and I had to ask everybody, everytime I was talking about it. This is the first I have ever looked up anything on the subject of memory loss. My doctor feels it is serious enough to have tested so they are sending me for a ct scan of my head (brain?). They also have scheduled me for an ultra sound of my carotid artery? Concerned about blood flow to my brain? Anyway, would love to know if these are signs of WHAT?????. My son keeps telling me if you don't use it, you'll lose it. I try to do my Sudoko, word games, crossword puzzles and although I'm not as good as I once was, I am able to do them. Strange hah!! Thanks for any help. I'm 63 with no family members diagnosed with Alzheimers or anything even remotely related. My Mom and Dad are still alive - 83 and 85 respectively.

By Dianne R. Crandall (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

Dear Dianne,
I think you're doing the best thing in going to see your doctor to get a better sense of what your symptoms are a sign of. A CT scan (also known as a CAT scan) will give your doctor a better image of the tissues in your brain and, combined with other analysis, will help in identifying what may be going on with your memory. It'll be good to hear about your experiences so please keep in touch. Take care.