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The Twists and Turns of My Mild Cognitive Impairment

A year or so after my diagnosis, I'm mourning a loss, making adaptations and still playing chess with family and friends

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.

In recent months, what I call "the shaky wakeys," seem to be getting worse, especially when I'm trying to make sharp turns either in the house or outside. For example, this morning I turned to get something from the kitchen counter and ended up having to grab the edge of the sink to prevent myself from falling down.

A chess board in a person's home. Next Avenue, mild cognitive impairment
Credit: Tono Graphy

But oddly enough, that's not what's preying on my mind. What's preying on my mind is the loss of Mabel, our rescue dog. She'd been a friend, companion and the purveyor of sensible advice for many years. We lost her to cancer of the stomach; she reached the end of her life late on a Sunday night after spending several days not eating.

What's the unblemished truth about my present circumstance as far as I can figure it out?

I still cry from time to time. I miss her when I get up in the morning. I miss her telling me what to do and where we should go when we go out on our daily walks — walks prescribed by the neurologist to help me combat my Mild Cognitive Impairment.

So where am I now, I ask myself. What's the unblemished truth about my present circumstance as far as I can figure it out? First of all, I'm trying to hold the line. A physiotherapist has given me a series of exercises to improve my strength and balance; exercises like repeatedly standing on one leg for five seconds or pulling on an elastic band for a number of times.

Exercises and Accommodations Around the House

There is also an exercise to improve my posture. I seem to have begun to do my own version of an older man's forward tilt.

But I do have trouble getting around the house. Fortunately, I've been aided by the stair rails that have been installed here at the behest of the physiotherapist. They enable me, for example, to go up and down the stairs from the basement, although when I am carrying laundry it's a bit tricky. I have to place the laundry basket on the next stair up and then, holding the rail, go up another step myself. Tedious, but it works.

And, by chance, the design of our home is amenable to no falls during nighttime bathroom visits. I thought about that last night when I had to go to the bathroom around 2 in the morning.

First I was aided by the light on the clock radio which illuminates enough of our bedroom to enable me to see what I'm doing. Then there is the dresser near my side of the bed which serves as a support when the shaky wakeys start acting up. Then comes the narrow hallway whose walls serve as support as I head to the bathroom and finally there is the sink that serves as a support in the bathroom itself.

A New Walking Companion

And then there are my daily walks. Now I have a new companion, Lily. Lily is no Mabel but she is a sweet dog, a collie golden retriever mix. She's too strong for me, so I have to use one of those spiky collars to prevent her from pulling me down whenever she spots a squirrel or rabbit or a dog she'd like to meet. My son Daniel found Lily for us — she's not a puppy, as she turned six in the fall.

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Chess and Other Games to Keep My Brain Active

Last fall, Daniel began coming by and walking with me to my friend Martin's house, which borders on the Assiniboine River, here in Winnipeg, where we would play chess. Martin would always take periodic breaks from making chess moves to brew cappuccinos or make glasses of ice cold Kombucha.

A shepherd dog on a leash outside. Next Avenue, mild cognitive impairment
David Koulack's new dog, Lily  |  Credit: Daniel Koulack

The three of us, Daniel, Martin and I, started playing two games of chess at once. Daniel and Martin play Chess 960, a game invented by Bobby Fischer which was designed to ensure the games' beginnings would be random.

At the same time the two of them gang up on me in a game of regular chess. The set up was ideal for a lovely and enjoyable afternoon. And to make things better for me, I had been winning all of my games, until I didn't win.

I lost a game that day and then another friend showed up and promptly beat me in two games in quick succession. I was a little disconcerted but didn't think too much about it until the afternoon a few days later when one of my grandsons showed up after work to have a game or two of chess. He beat me handily and quickly and left me puzzled.

What's happened to me? I asked myself. Is the mild cognitive impairment wreaking havoc with my brain?

Then I check myself out with my own sorts of tests—like the crossword puzzles I've been completing, but mostly the thinking and writing that I've been doing, the little vignettes and observations about life that I've written and posted on various websites.They seem to make sense. People write to tell me how much they enjoy them, some people even suggest that I compile them into some sort of book.

Maybe I will, but in the meantime, I'm just going to try to keep going, keep writing, and who knows, maybe even win a game of chess or two.

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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