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With My Mild Cognitive Impairment, Staying Organized is a Challenge

Keeping track of appointments for myself and my new dog has added some stress, but I'm still glad for my regular chess games

By David Koulack

Editor’s note: The founder of the first sleep and dream research lab at the University of Manitoba and a retired psychology professor, David Koulack, will be documenting his health journey through occasional posts on Next Avenue.

It's a peculiar business, trying to carry on with life, accepting my Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and all its travails while at the same time fighting against them.

What am I talking about? I've written about my "shakey wakeys" before, but they've gotten a good deal worse over time. For example, now when I stand up to start walking, I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to do it — stand up, that is. And if I succeed (which I have so far) I feel like maybe I'm going to fall down, although I haven't as yet.

A man walking his dog down the street. Next Avenue, mild cognitive impairment
David Koulack and his dog, Lily  |  Credit: Laura van den Brul

Then there is the question of getting where I want to go when I'm going someplace that I haven't been to in a while. In the old days I'd just go, but now I often have to check out the route before starting out; and then maybe I have to pause and think again to make sure that I really have it right.

What was I supposed to do with all of that? It seemed overwhelming.

Walking is one of the few things that I have to keep me going literally and figuratively, and it's something the neurologist prescribed. Until a little while ago, I had a constant companion, my dog Mabel, who was always ready to take me out walking. Last fall, she died and left me bereft and without a walking companion.

We tried other dogs to no avail, but then my son Daniel found Lily for me. She's a six-year-old collie who likes nothing better than going for walks. The people who originally had Lily had to give her up because she was doing collie types of things, like herding their little children when they were outdoors playing.

Keeping Up at the Vet

The one problem I have with Lily is the loose leaf notebook that came with her. It is a record of all of her visits with her vet and all the vaccinations and pills that had been prescribed for her during her six years of life. What was I supposed to do with all of that? It seemed overwhelming.

I did remember that heartworm season was coming up and it looked like Lily was due for a vaccination of some kind. I made an appointment for Lily see the vet (the same vet that Mabel used to see) to get the vaccination that she needed as well as to have a general checkup. 

The conversation with the vet was instructive. At some point, I mentioned my MCI to her and she understood the problem and its ramifications, and did a little something that put me at ease and helped me out.

She gave me some pills for Lily, told me when to give them to her, but then went one step further and wrote it all down. And amazingly, so far, I've gotten everything right, at least on the pill-giving front.

On other fronts, I'm having to cope with new problems that arise and are manifested in different ways, brought to my attention by different people, that confuse me. I'm no longer sure of myself, no longer sure that I've done what I'd thought I'd done or said I was going to do.

The worst kind of difficulty is the official (or officious) kind. One instance happened the other day, although I found out about it on a weekend evening.

There was a message on my phone from the dentist — two messages actually, identical messages as it turned out. They were to remind me of an appointment that I had to get some dental work done and if I didn't come in at the appropriate time, the message said, I'd be charged anyway.

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Keeping New Worries at Bay

I went to bed but couldn't sleep, tossing and turning wondering if I got things wrong yet again and getting up to leave a message, and then getting up early to try and speak to a real person if there was one available. And there was — a very nice person who told me that the appointment was the result of a misunderstanding and that I needn't worry and that I had another appointment scheduled for two months from now.

Will I be able to do that — carry on without worrying? I doubt it. Maybe I won't worry about the dentist appointment for a while, but there are so many other things that crop up.

For some reason, I can still do that — play chess, that is.

Like what? Well, take today. The weather is nice, good gardening weather. Maybe time to get some fall plants for the garden. It's just a matter of going to the garden shop. But which one? What is its name? Where is it? And how do I get there?

Don't I have something else to do this afternoon?  Wait, there's the telephone. My son Daniel just called to say he'll pick me up to go to play chess at my friend Martin's house.

For some reason I can still do that — play chess, that is. And on top of that, there is a cadre of people who will be there, people that I like, people I can kid around with as well as play chess with and on top of that, people whose names I remember, at least most of the time.

David Koulack took early retirement from the psychology department at the University of Manitoba in order to write. His articles have appeared in many newspapers and his short stories and creative nonfiction pieces have been published in a variety of literary journals. Read More
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