Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back from Family Trip: Thoughts About Memory Loss, ADD, and Blue Light Therapy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my anxieties about my pending visit to my grandmother.  Some of my anxieties were due to childhood memories of being bored at my grandparents' rural home.  Some of them were due to the fact that my father had told me that she her cognition had "really declined".  Would she even remember that my sister and I were coming in to visit?  Would she recognize us?  Would she be startled every morning to find us there?

The answer to all of these questions was, hell no.  We had a great visit with Grandma.  She has trouble remembering things like what day it is, and therefore what day we were coming, or what time my aunt was going to visit her next.  Her long-term memory, her personality, and -- thank the gods! -- her sense of humor are intact.

Over the last several months, I've been concerned about the fact that moving in with my aunt isn't what she really wants or needs.  She now seems to feel positive about the move to the new house.  It was a fixer-upper, but my aunt and uncle have put in a ton of work on it, and it's looking pretty good.  She'll have her own large bedroom, bathroom, and even a large living area all to herself.

I'm still concerned about the effect the move will have on her cognition.  I suspect that a move to new surroundings, away from the friends she's known for thirty years, will be very difficult.  I'm also worried that my aunt and uncle tend to patronize her, and add to her stress level.  For instance, she often forgot where her purse was.  If she herself had told someone to take it for her, she was less worried about where it was.  When my uncle said "let me take that for you", and just took it, she was much more nervous about where it was.  Her short term memory is obviously a problem in both cases, but it was clear that something was different for her on an emotional level if she was the one who asked for assistance, instead of having assistance thrust upon her.

One thing that was very striking, and that frightens me, is how much her situation resembles ADD.  The moments of "where did I put that".  Or "why did I come into this room".  Or "what day is it".  Or repeating myself because I have no idea that I've already said that.  What will my brain be like when I get older?  Will my ADD become unmanageable?  Will I lose my memory at an earlier age than other people?

As for my mood, it's been better since going up to 250 mgs of lamictal.  It still wasn't great -- sunset was timed earlier, because I was on the edge of the Eastern time zone.  This seemed to mean that my energy and mood flagged at 3 pm instead of 4.  To remedy this, I bought myself a travel light therapy device before I left.  Instead of being a full-spectrum sun lamp, it's a blue light powered by LED.  There's ome evidence that light from the blue end of the spectrum is the really important part of light therapy.  Since my blue light was the only one I could find that was small enough to travel with, I decided to try it out.

The light I got was made by a company called Syrcadian Blue.  You're supposed to use it by mounting it on top of your computer monitor, or on the visor of your car, so that the light is above eye level.  Since I just had my laptop with me, this was difficult to accomplish, but when I did, I noticed it made a difference. It was somehow it was less comforting than my full-spectrum sun lamp, but it nonetheless improved my mood noticeably.

It was an intense week and a half.  I didn't sleep well for most of it, but I seemed to be OK in spite of that.  Now that I'm home, my body is confused both by jetlag and by the abrupt change in the weather -- I was in the Northeast, which was belted by a record-breaking snowstorm.  I left a place where there was snow and ice all over the place and temperatures in the low 40s, and returned to a place where the weather is sunny, clear, and temperatures in the 60s.  My body experienced a proper autumn, and doesn't know what to do with this strange California version.  Last year, my crash happened soon after I had returned from a trip.  I hope I'm not headed for another one.

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