Were those signs of impending dementia?

In 1990, I published my first book, co-authored with my husband. We were both very thrilled with the milestone, and presented a copy to my parents. The book, What Every Manager Should Know About Computers, was (according to us) a very simple introduction to computers. We assumed anyone would be able to read and enjoy it, especially proud parents. (or at least they could pretend to do so).

Well, my father tried reading it. He read two chapters, then gave up, but he did say that maybe, if he was younger, he would have been able to read more. He then switched back to the bestseller he was reading.

I had hoped for more encouragement and enthusiasm from my mother. She had always been more of a reader, and always seemed so much more alert and intelligent. She did not open the book. I don’t read such books, she declared, as if the book was beneath her dignity in some way. My father tried to suggest she could give it a try (It is well-written, he said). She glared at him, as if even the suggestion was an imposition.

I remember how disappointed and hurt I felt. She didn’t even try! Not too many people go around writing books, and I thought it was an achievement she could have shared with us. I remember going to her room and seeing the book lying untouched. That is the first time I realized that my mother was not reading much those days. This was the woman who made me read Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, and who could speak for hours on various schools of philosophy – and though her room still had plenty of J Krishnamurthy and Paul Brunton and Annie Beasant, those books were neatly in their shelves. What she was reading, I realized, was only magazines – Woman’s Era, Femina. No Times or Newsweek, either.

That night, as I registered that her refusal to read my book could be because she couldn’t, I assumed she had let herself slip. She was taking things too easy, and her standard was slipping.

Looking back now, I wonder: Was her unwillingness to exert herself and stretch her reading the reason her cognitive ability suffered (sort of use it or lose it), or was it the other way around – had she already started experiencing some difficulties, and scared to admit it, decided to stay away from stuff she found increasingly difficult?

And if, indeed, her unwillingness to read complex stuff was an early sign of cognitive decline (instead of a cause of it), what could I have done differently to help her?

My mother was (I use the past tense because she is a different person now) a very proud woman. she would have exploded had I dared suggest that she stretches her mental muscles, and completely denied that there was a problem (and this is exactly what she did five years later, when I realized what was going on and tried to point it out to her…more on that some other day).

Newspapers and magazines nowadays carry enough articles on mild cognitive decline and how metal activity can help keep problems at bay. Perhaps, if she had read enough of them to plan ahead and build mental exercise habits, life would have been different for her (and us). I wonder how she felt when her own intellect started betraying her…it must have been so difficult.

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

2 Responses to Were those signs of impending dementia?

  1. austere says:

    How old was she then?

    Well, she was reading, even if it was Femina- so the brain centers for thought and comprehension must have been used. Its not as if she was watching soaps all day.

    But that must have been painful- your first book too.

  2. swapnawrites says:

    She was in her mid sixties.

    Yes, she was reading, but the sort of reading was quite a few notches below what she had been reading earlier, and therefore an indication of a possible decline. She also stopped reading novels (even simple ones), and stuck to mainstream, non-literary short stories. In retrospect, this probably reflected her reduced attention span.

    That’s how stuff sneaks upon us, insidiously.

    And yes, a year or two later, she reduced reading further and watched soaps bulk of the day 😦

    My next few posts are likely to be on this topic, too, because as I age, I want to remain alert on decline in myself, and act to arrest it if I can…

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