“10 Signs That You Might Be Losing It: 1) You tend to forget things … 6) You tend to forget things…”

Well, Dave Barry, I’m not turning 50 (yet!), but I hear ya! In fact, a neuro-psychologist, no less, is in the process of determining if, and by how much, I am indeed “losing it”.  I took a cognitive examination a month or so ago, and the results are in…First, a little personal reflection on the test itself:  it was exhausting, and surprisingly challenging, and most of an entire day was spent taking it.  Honestly, I don’t recall the GRE Physics Subject test working me over as hard, and at least for that one, I got to use my calculator.

My cog exam got started with the neuropsychologist pressing the “on” button of a cassette tape recorder — yes, that’s right folks, the prehistoric ancestor of the IPod! — that proceeded to narrate a long, detailed story involving a gazillion names, places and dates. The objective would be for me to recite the story back to him at the end of the day (complete with that background static that only a cassette tape can deliver?).  Right.  Two sentences, 5 names, 4 places and 3 dates into the story,  and I’m still in shock-and-awe over the usage of a 30+ year old cassette tape recorder in this world-renown research facility. I’ve already forgotten the story’s opening lines. Who went where, when?!

The shrink exits the room (to have a private discussion with StarMan to get his opinion on whether I am losing it.  Even I already know that answer to that one.).  Next up is a perky middle-aged lady with a box of puzzles —  oh yeah!! Jigsaw puzzles! (I actually got a little excited when I saw them).   Idea is for me to put the puzzles together as quickly as I can.  I accomplished the task without too much head-scratching.  Was good to see that all those shape-learning skills I learned during Kindergarten were really paying off.

Then things started heating up:  perky lady pulled out a book, with each page depicting black and white images of boxes and numbers.  Goal was to determine a pattern, to figure out the Rosetta Stone of these hieroglyphics, and to tell perky lady which number was the “answer” to each page. Hmm.  Just count the boxes?  Count only the filled boxes?  The unfilled boxes?  Or is there a more sinister plot?  I’m guessing perky lady is a good poker player, because I wasn’t getting any clues from her stoic body language.   I’d randomly guess, she  would only say if I was “correct” or “incorrect”, and then she’d flip to the next page that supposedly followed the same underlying rule.  I suppose the truly gifted were able to read her mind to determine the answer, but being the mere mortal that I am, I had to resort to pure experimentation (aka “guessing”). Needless to say, it would take at least a couple of pages of experimentation to finally unlock the pattern,  and just as I had nailed it and felt like I had redeemed some shred of my intellectual dignity by flaunting the answers, on we’d go to the next set of pictures with a completely different pattern to be determined.  This part of the exam had to be worse than Chinese water torture.

Near the end of the exam, I was asked to use my pointing finger to tap this archaic-looking device (like a key from an old-fashioned typewrite — I fully appreciate that you younger readers have no idea what I am talking about) as rapidly as I could.  Determined to end this exam thing on a high note, I hit that sucker as fast as I could.  I suppose I was also digging the retro-look of this exam, because I can remember a day when typewriters and cassette tape recorders together ruled the world.  I’m pretty sure I aced that part of the exam, as it required no thinking or remembering — just pure jock skill, baby.

There were several other elements of the exam that got really weird.  For example, reaching into a hole in the side of a box, and being asked what shape (square, triangle, circle) that was being put in my hands.  Seriously, people fail this one? And then I was asked to draw a clock, of all things  (I struggled with the temptation of going for a Salvador Dali flourish, but eventually settled on early 19th century realism. Yes, I know, boring).

The truly kookie part, however, was this very long set of questions that I had to answer.  Specifically, a perfectly reasonable question might ask “do you ever experience numbness in your hands?”, followed by something that strongly resembled a non-sequitur, like “do you believe in an afterlife?” or “do you ever have thoughts of killing your mother?”.  Huh?!  Trust me completely when I say that these questions were even odder than those on a 1040 tax form.

Alright, so what were the results — am I indeed “losing it”, or is the word-finding problem that I am having just one of the delightful aspects of the normal aging process? …

The answer will sadly have to wait for a future post, as the neuro-psych lab failed to send my neurologist the results, and therefore we were unable to discuss them during yesterday’s appointment. Sigh. Oh well,  perhaps ignorance is indeed bliss…


4 thoughts on ““10 Signs That You Might Be Losing It: 1) You tend to forget things … 6) You tend to forget things…”

  1. So sorry to read and hear about your medical situation, Ben. You are pursuing the best in medical expertise. I hope that you are able to get answers to your questions. In my opinion, the only thing worse than not being well is not knowing why you’re not well. You have an excellent blog: I will be following it closely over the next couple of weeks in hopes of reading some good news.


  2. I haven’t been to Mayo, Ben, but I certainly will consider it if left with unanswered questions after exercising all local medical options. For example, I still have yet to see the results of the neurocognitive exam that I took several weeks ago. These results will be pivotal in formulating my next step. If the results indicate cognitive function that is significantly impacted beyond what could be explained by MS alone, then I would actively pursue other underlying causes, which may ultimately lead to a Mayo visit.

    I’m curious: have you ever had an OCT scan? I talk about OCT scans quite a lot on my blog; an OCT is a cheap test that can be done even in an optometrist’s office (which is where I had my first one). OCT scans of your retinal nerve fiber layer could indicate MS even if your other tests (MRI and spinal tap) came back clean.

    Well, I should include the caveat that anomalous OCT results are not completely specific to MS — they actually point to any neurological condition that would lead to brain atrophy, which is really what a thinned retinal nerve fiber layer indicates (my take, based on what I’ve read). MS just happens to be the more common cause for such anomalous results, after glaucoma is ruled out. I’m just curious if you’ve had an OCT scan yet (if not, the Mayo folks will likely give you one).


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