That Elderly White Dude: Reflections on a Memory Test

Yesterday at neuro rehab, I received the results of a (very long, multi-part) memory test that I completed with my occupational therapist last week.

I’ll cut right to the chase and reveal that I didn’t do incredibly well. My OT was careful to sandwich the news: “You have lots of strengths; this test showed that you have clear memory deficits; you’re still a great person!” (I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I think that I captured the general sentiment, and I appreciated her effort to make me feel better about not getting an A+ in brain-injury recovery.)

I did this same test when I was in my first block of treatment, although I—appropriately, I guess—recall the experience only vaguely. The section of the test that gave me the greatest sense of déjà vu while repeating it involved 1) going through a series of faces and then 2) looking at a second series, deciding whether each face was in the original group. During my initial go at it back in May, I found the task very frustrating. Was this elderly white dude the same elderly white dude I had just seen, or was whoever put the test together trying to trick me? Likewise, was the generic-looking middle-aged woman the same generic-looking middle-aged woman, or was the test-maker being a jerk? Much to my chagrin, but not to my surprise, the test-maker was equally sneaky this time, and I was equally discouraged.

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Now that I’m able to look more closely, I can see that these are definitely different elderly white dudes.

Other parts of the test were a little easier; some were just as difficult. Given how much trouble I’d had with certain sections, I didn’t expect to be told that I had aced it, but I also wasn’t anticipating that my score would be essentially the same as it was when I took the test nine months ago. After all, I’m functioning better now, or at least I assume that I am. I’m more able to manage on a day-to-day basis and less likely to let things fall by the wayside. I’m told, and I’d like to believe, that I present as someone whose memory isn’t as bad as it objectively is (if the numbers are to be trusted).

The positive spin that I’m choosing to put on this is that the compensatory strategies that I’ve learned and that I normally employ—and that were taken away while I was being tested last week—are pretty darn successful. I work hard at making my quality of life as high as it can be despite the challenges that I’m facing and at taking advantage of the resources that I’m lucky to have access to, like treatment in an incredible neuro-rehab program with fantastic practitioners who’ve helped me, and continue to help me, both figure out how to adapt to my current reality and make progress in my recovery. So what if I can’t remember a random elderly white dude in a memory test? I can recognize the youngish dude in my living room, and that’s more important. #gratitude

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