Am I the Only One Who Notices My Impairment?

I recently visited my daughter Laurel and her family in Napa, CA. I've been doing this regularly for the past several years during the grandchildren's spring vacation so that they're able to stay at home without Laurel having to make special arrangements.

At nine and eleven years old, Madeline and Otto are getting to the place where they need less babysitting than they do a simple adult presence. As I write, they're quietly entertaining themselves as they usually do in the morning. In the afternoon, we'll ride our bikes downtown to visit the library. Other days we'll go for a hike, go bowling, visit a museum in San Francisco, or stay home and play board games. I have never enjoyed younger children, but I certainly seem to be enjoying my grandchildren as they grow older.

Laurel said last night that she hadn't noticed that my cognitive impairment causing any problems, and, as she said, "You know I'd tell you if I did."

But I've noticed it.

Otto has a soccer game on Saturday, and I told him I'd be sorry to miss it since I'd be starting my three-day return train trip on Friday. Laurel interrupted and said she thought I was leaving on Sunday. Knowing better than to trust my memory, I checked my calendar and, sure enough, she was right. I had reserved my train tickets to leave Sunday morning and arrive in Washington next Wednesday. But, somehow, for the last several weeks, I'd had it in my mind (and have been telling Marja and my friends) that I'll get home on Monday.

Because weekends are special family times at Laurel's, however, I always try to stay in Napa through most of the second weekend while I'm here. So I would never have planned to leave on Friday without exceptionally extenuating circumstances; I was bothered by having to leave on Saturday but I never thought it through enough to notice my mistake. It just didn't occur to me. Furthermore, I have no idea why I hadn't noticed my error since the correct schedule is plainly written in my calendar on both my phone and computer and I check them at least daily.

To make matters worse, I had scheduled a lecture to a well-established community group for that Wednesday morning. But the train isn't scheduled to arrive in Washington until Wednesday afternoon. That meeting, too, was on my calendar and must have been there when I made my train reservations. I have no idea why I didn't see the conflict.

And to make matters even worse, when I became of aware of all of this, I wrote an email to the sponsor of the event canceling my presentation without really thinking through whether I had any other options. I have previously committed myself to a smaller environmental foot print when I travel so I haven't flown in years, but I can certainly bend my principles and fly home in time for to offer the lecture. Fortunately, my email to the sponsor didn't get through and I was able to make new travel arrangements without panicking her.

These are the sorts of little personal indignities that come with my cognitive impairment. Friends tell me that they have memory lapses like this all the time; it's normal for them. But it wasn't normal for me before this impairment.

On the other hand, the major impact of my lapses is that usually, they only embarrass me. It's not a big deal. I can live with it.

Editor’s Note: David’s journey with Mild Cognitive Impairment was chronicled in “Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s,” an in-depth look at the real lives of families impacted by the Alzheimer’s epidemic. His story continues on his personal blog on AgingCare.com. 

An author and former physician, Dr. David Hilfiker was diagnosed in 2012 with a progressive mild cognitive impairment. His doctor thought it was Alzheimer's but additional testing proved this initial diagnosis to be wrong. Now David must learn how to come to terms with the reality of worsening cognitive issues that appear to have no cause.

Visit: Watching the Lights Go Out

View full profile

You May Also Like See all guides >

Veterans' Benefits

Find federal benefits available to your family.

Home Care

How to find, hire and manage home care.

Caregivers' Survival

Everything you need to care for an elderly family member.

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!