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It happened again the other day.
“Hey, Isaac,” I said to my 12 year old son, “let’s go to…uh…you know…uh…I mean…damn…you know…what-is-it-called…the place we always shop… “
“Walmart?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Yes,” I shouted a little, “that’s it! Do you want to go to Walmart?”
And so we did.
For me, however, it was a very unsatisfying excursion. Again, one word escapes me. Not an unusual or complicated one, mind you, but a familiar term that I use every day. Wait, let me rephrase that; one that I use every day that I can remember it.
Welcome to old age.
Forgetting words, I say, is a normal part of it. You are deep in conversation, talking a mile a minute, about to make a deeply considered point, when suddenly, inexplicably, the right word is lost. Like a lecherous fish that tickles your hook but refuses to pounce, it just sits there dangling from the tip of your tongue, tormenting you with its stubborn invisibility. Which, for someone like me to whom words matter, is not at all offensive.
And so I immediately substituted another, less perfect word, hoping no one would notice. Or stammer and stutter until my son fills in the blanks.
The lurking boogeyman, of course, is Alzheimer’s; a devastating disease that attacks the elderly, ultimately rendering them without memory, personality, autonomy, and life. Perhaps my fear of this is clearer than most, having watched my father’s Alzheimer’s-driven demise in the last decade of his life. For him, the radio operator on a merchant ship, it started off in Alaska after forgetting Morse Code at the age of 62 and ended ten years later in a rest house where—diapered in a wheelchair—no he can speak, write, or recognize anyone around him. That dark image of my father helpless and alone has not gone away.
He died in 1989 when Alzheimer’s was relatively new and there were no antidotes for it. To an extent, that is still true. But a recent Vox headline offered unprecedented hope: “A new era in Alzheimer’s treatment has begun,” it declared, which immediately caught my attention.
The US Food and Drug Administration has given full approval to a powerful new anti-Alzheimer drug called lecanemab marketed under the brand name Legembi. And in the next few weeks, new clinical trials are expected for another promising candidate, donanemab, likely to spark what some news outlets are calling “a new gold rush” in pharmaceutical research. “Within the next year,” Vox breathlessly predicted, “Alzheimer’s patients may have access to not just one treatment, but two.”
Not that I’m particularly concerned or worried about it. Despite a recent confession of my ex-wife that I sometimes experience confusion about the significant number of pills, I drink every morning. Which resulted in her unsolicited gift of a medicine organizer with neat little capsules separated by hours and days of the week.
“Hey, this is great!” I told my now (and younger) wife. “This eliminates the possibility of accidentally taking the same pill twice.”
“Yes,” he answered forcefully, “caused by early Alzheimer’s.”
Well, maybe. But, hey, looks like there’s some good news coming on that front. So all I can say is bring it. I mean, in.
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