Why Tip-Of-The-Tongue Syndrome Terrifies Me

For the past few years, my husband and I have been engaged in a sort of memory-loss Olympics. We are constantly keeping track of who forgets more.

We even apply categories of weight -- degree of difficulty if you will -- to the things we forget. Removing the eggs and putting the empty frying pan back on the stove without turning off the gas burner racked up some major memory loss points with the East German judge, I told him when he did this last week. He reminded me there is no more East Germany. Yeah, I knew that; but I just forgot it.

I racked up some high scores of my own last month when I tried to introduce him to someone who stopped by our dinner table in a popular restaurant in town. For the life of me, I couldn't remember her name, although it was right there on the tip of my tongue. I knew her daughter's name and remembered how we both drove the same color and make car because once, years ago, I tried to unlock hers with my remote door opener in the school parking lot. But her name? It was right there, but out of my grasp. Scientists find that the areas of the brain that are activated during a bout of TOT syndrome -- yes, they call it that -- are the ones responsible for memory and problem solving. Not exactly a surprise. But, they say, multitasking or fatigue are both perfectly valid explanations for why it occurs, thank you very much. I am always multitasking and fatigued.

My husband has always been pretty disorganized, so it's hard to know whether it's memory loss when he forgets his cell phone at home or just the same-old, same-old. He has a long history of credit cards left at the last point of purchase, gas caps left on the pump, and reading glasses left in various and wondrous locations throughout the house -- places where reading material never visit, like the laundry room. I pride myself on being better organized than he is, but it was me who recently spent an embarrassing hour riding in a golf cart around the mall parking garage with a security guard trying to find my car. (Tip for those who have been here: Take a photo with your phone of where you park your car.)

But there is a serious side to forgetting things as you age. With each misplaced phone receiver or TV remote, my husband and I ask ourselves: Is this it? Losing our memory is, of course, the Boogeyman In The Closet of growing older. While cancer is no walk in the park, it's Alzheimer's disease that scares us the most. With cancer, you get odds that you are challenged to beat. But there are no odds in Alzheimer's. Nobody recovers from it and the best you can hope for is to say goodbye to everybody you love before you forget who they are.

And so we go through our lives worrying a little each time we call the new dog by our dead dog's name or stand in the refrigerator door not remembering why we opened it. I remind myself that experts say that not every misplaced set of car keys means you have Alzheimer's and that some times, we all just go on autopilot.

But I have put in place new ways to help me remember things. My life is papered in yellow stick-em notes. And living as wired as we do has been a boon; I set calendar remembers for meetings and appointments, my phone's GPS -- my new best friend -- generally helps me find my way. That assumes, of course, that I can find the phone.

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