We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

On Living with Dementia

I first turned 65 when I was 41. Geezered almost overnight after a viral attack to my brain in 1988, I was soon diagnosed with static dementia, displaying classic multiple cognitive deficits, including memory impairment. Most people who become demented do so over time, fading, their symptoms developing. Mine happened suddenly and didn’t progress. At least, they haven’t for the last 24 years. 

A few months ago, I turned 65 again—this time chronologically—and it’s like I’ve had more than a third of my life to get used to the sorts of declining powers that I’d be likely to face now anyway. I still commit the sorts of mistakes, neurocognitive snafus, that have marked my shattered functioning. Just this week, I put a capsule into the espresso machine, removed the empty cup I’d just placed under the spigot so there was now nothing in which to catch the liquid, pressed the Start button, and watched in bafflement as rich, dark brew spewed over the kitchen counter. This was matched, two days later, by pouring juice into a cereal bowl rather than a glass and watching in wonder as the purple spread more widely than it was supposed to. 

Last night I announced to my wife, Beverly, that I’d numbed the television rather than muted it, and that I would evaporate rather than delete a film we’d just watched on our DVR. Earlier today, by the time I reached for one of the pens and notepads I keep all around our home, I could no longer remember the item I’d wanted to add to our shopping list. The problem was that I allowed myself to think I needed to find the pen and notepad when I should have kept focused on whatever it was I wanted to write down. Unfortunately, all this leads to a life filled with loony babble, because under stress I tend to say out loud what I’m trying to remember as I try to find the pen and paper whose whereabouts I can’t remember. In some ways, it’s comforting—in the sense of making me feel less alone and difficult to be with—that my wife began doing the same sorts of things as she neared 60. 

Buzz Aldrin
This story is part of our November/December 2012 Issue
See the rest of the issue

Something I wrote 15 years ago about living with dementia became a credo for me: since I can’t presume I’ll remember anything, I must live fully in the present. Since I can’t presume I’ll understand anything, I must experience my life without pressing to formulate ideas about it. Since I can’t escape my altered brain and the limits it has imposed, I must be at home with it. And since I can’t presume I’ll master anything I do, I must let go of mastery as a goal and seek harmony instead.

Don't Miss
The Dementia Plague

Floyd Skloot’s books include The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life and In the Shadow of Memory, an account of the aftermath of his 1988 illness.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.