It was 2018 when I discovered the Generations section in the Pioneer. It was a collection of reminiscences written by old folks like me reflecting on various aspects of their lives.
Charmed by those stories, I contacted Matt Cory, then editor at the Pioneer, who invited me to submit some of my own—and I did. Then about a year later, he introduced me to the subsequent opinion page editor, Dennis Doeden, who introduced me to my current editor, Annalise Braught, not long afterwards.
These wonderful people read my submissions, decided which were print worthy, and offered suggestions for making my prose more interesting to readers like you. And so if you’re lucky enough to meet any of them, feel free to tell them how much you appreciate their editorial efforts because, after all, they made your reading experiences more enjoyable.
I’m sorry to tell you this will be my last column because something happened that will demand large blocks of my time. About a year and a half ago, Mary Lou and I both noticed that I was more forgetful than usual. And since both my parents died of Alzheimer's, I immediately agreed to be tested and scanned to see if I, too, had some kind of dementia.
The good news was that I did not. Instead I only had a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, which is essentially a reducing ability to remember things that have just happened. If I don’t take a shopping list with me, for example, I’ll return home without all the groceries Mary Lou asked me to pick up.
Had I also made errors in judgement, I’d have had a form of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer's. But, happily, I did not.
The bad news is that 10% of those with MCI develop dementia within 12 months, and 10% of those who didn’t will develop it the following year, and so on year after year. My hope is that should I develop dementia, it’ll come later, rather than sooner.
What do I do about my MCI? I’m surely not going to curl into a fetal position and bemoan my fate. Instead, I’ve joined the Alzheimer's Association in making lives easier for people who have MCI, dementia, and those like me, who have watched those we love lose grasp of what it means to be a human being.
These are really upsetting things, but I can tell you that those who care for MCI and dementia patients find it satisfying and gratifying to help out. We are, after all, doing important things for people who can’t do those things for themselves.
What will I do now? Well the Alzheimer's Association of Southern Arizona wants me to write about MCI in ways making it easier for newly diagnosed patients and their families to understand what’s going on. I hope the patients and their caregivers will find the things I write and the instruction I deliver helps them learn more by understanding their situations and experiences in light of what’s been learned by those who’ve been dealing with MCI for a while.
I also hope they’ll find my experiences helpful in understanding those they’ve had and those they will have in the future. We all want to come to accept our diseases so we can both deal with them and—as I’m trying to do—enjoy the satisfactions coming from working to make others' lives and the lives of their caregivers easier and more satisfying.
And should you wish, you can join me in helping those with mild cognitive impairments. How? Well, it’s quite easy.
When I forget something or forget to do something, I’m always pleased when the people I’m with don’t point that out to me. Why? First, I already know when I can’t find my keys, and I know when I can’t remember where I parked my pickup; and second, there is currently little I can do to remediate the problem. Third, and what hurts the most, is when I’m reminded of my worsening problem. Why is this? Because asking “did you lose your keys?” while solicitous, sounds like “you lost your keys again, huh?”
What might you do? Saying nothing, or if you want, say something like “I’ll help you look.” That would be much appreciated by those of us with MCI.
So goodbye. Know that despite my memory problems, I’ll try as hard as I can to never forget my friends in the Bemidji area (and especially Debs). And if recalling something you read of mine causes you to smile, that’s a sign that our relationship has been a good one.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.