Tuesday, October 30, 2018

An N of 9

Michael Sedano

“Three back is pretty good. The kids at Cal Tech were doing nine back.”

The neuroscience researcher was describing a way to measure short-term memory using an n-back visual test. Numbers appear on a monitor over a period of time, and the test is how many back you remember. He was saying how it’s OK to have an N of 3, but imagine those Cal Tech undergrads.
Fading Amaryllis

Parts of the lecture went way over the heads of his in-one-ear-out-the-other, ditzy, absent-minded audience.  

We're a “Memory Club,” hosted by  Huntington Senior Care Network in Pasadena, in association with Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles. Many such services exist across the country. We're an aging country and we're all aging ten years a month until 6November.

Half the researcher's audience today experiences cognitive dysfunction and the other half experiences experiencing cognitive dysfunction, as caregivers. Some of us have an N of zero. All of us are scared witless.

I know exactly how dementia feels. A few years ago I sat in Disney Hall at a John Williams concert. Williams conducting Williams and all the familiar tunes. 
Disney Hall From Our Seats

Imagine the line up. That one, “ta-da-dadadaDA,” Superman! “Tata-dada,” E.T.! Then the best of all, “ada-da-ta-da-da” and the audience around me gasps in delight. I don’t do this but I am compelled by their gasp to lean into my wife to whisper, “What is it?”

Star Wars, she answers. 

In the moment I realize I no longer know Star Wars music. Odd. I hurried home and sat at the keyboard to play a piece I really like. And sat there. My hands poised above the keyboard, my eyes stared at the keys with no idea what to do next. Damn, that hurt.

Next day, I took the bench again and forced my hands to play what I imagined was the Rage Over A Lost Penny and out came my 5th grade recital piece, Comin’ From The Jam Session.  I attacked  American Patrol and out marched Comin' From The Jam Session.

My fingers remembered one piece, from más antes. I read the heck out of a page of music, and improvisation was no sweat, but the pieces that were important to me, the ones I knew, were gone.

I rewired over a couple years, now I've recovered a bunch of stuff. I can almost play Beethoven again. But arthritis, sabes?

It’s frustrating knowing that there's a lot of stuff I don’t know any more. I have look up simple stuff. Like the neurologist told me, yeah you lost a shitload of stuff but you had a lot to begin with. I paraphrase. 

Absent Flowers
So I shared the envy those cognitively disabled old folks--one is 57--must have felt for a fleeting moment there when the neuroscientist told us about kids playing with their memories, reaching into themselves for an N of 9.

And did you know that a lot of migraine sufferers get diagnosed in later life with dementia of the Alzheimer's type? People sit up at the table when he says that.

This researcher is the fellow who unraveled the DNA sequence causing Mad Cow Disease. He hopes none of us get that. Me, too. He’s a researcher, not a healer. He wants to know how migraines work. He wants to know how memory works. He dissects brains to learn.

You know that thing about plaque and Alzheimer’s? Some people’s brains were loaded with plaque and they didn’t have cognitive impairment. Others were treated by a drug that cleaned out all the plaque. They weren’t cured.

I was reading Emma in 1964 it must have been, and came across this word I’ll never forget but held at arm's length. Now most of my friends and I exhibit similarities to Emma’s uncle, the valetudinarian. How is your memory, by the way? Start working with it now, the researcher advises. If you get hit, you get hit. Punto. Maybe you can delay it. He says.

The other day I had lunch with a friend I’ve known since elementary school. He has no short-term memory but he’s otherwise totally functional. They're from out of town. That couple has to keep after their local neurologist to be on top of developing therapies. Approaches and chemicals rapidly change. An eternal spring, hope.

People must be their own patient advocate. I stood facing my friend of so many memories, made eye contact and found him in there. “Don’t let this be the last time I see you,” I told him. He promised.

None of us wants to see ourselves as growing older too fast, I think, so eat right, exercise, hold onto your memory, and GOTV.

The majority of people in the aging study are anglo women. They live longer than their men.

There's a montón of raza with cognitive health problems and science has N=0 worth of data on our gente. 

I'm volunteering. 

Dr. Michael Harrington and the neuroscience group have detected adverse Alzheimer’s-like chemistry in study volunteers that have not yet developed symptoms. The Alzheimer’s-like chemistry can predict future development of dementia. Their goal is to develop a simple urine test to screen for the disease and discover underlying causes, which will allow for effective treatment. from the website


Amelia ML Montes said...

Gracias for this one, Em. So important to think about all the complexities of the mind and the many emotions that happen when realizing the loss of this memory or that one . . . . Then there is the memory loss of our loved ones. . .
Sending you many good wishes and grateful for your words.

msedano said...

thank you, amelia. my dad's favorite saying is pa'lla va la sombra, like he used to remind me when he couldn't do something but i could. for sure, ahi va.

Antonio SolisGomez said...

an important piece em, heartfelt, honest and insightful-should be read widely

msedano said...

thank you, antonio. good having your words with us, brother.

Daniel Cano said...

Funny how when we read, we often focus on characters most like us. Yours is a timely piece. Thnx