One of the easiest questions on the *Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE) is “What day of the week is it?” One problem with your possible response: After a few years of retirement, you might think of every non-working day as just another Saturday!
Neuroscientists report that, on awakening, our brains first check for answers to two questions: “What time (day/date/season) is it?” and “Where am I?” By establishing those two parameters of normal living, we can sort other thoughts that comprise our mental state or identity.
Since I want to maintain whatever passes for normal living in these times, I try to stay away from the “every day is Saturday” mindset. If I lose track of time or my sense of place, those would be strong markers of dementia, telling me and those around me that I need changes in my lifestyle, perhaps even medical intervention.
That’s why I keep a paper calendar close at hand—my wife and I also share a large calendar magnet-fastened to our fridge door. I spend time at the start of every week re-acquainting myself with the coming week’s events. (“This is doctors’ appointments week”, “Nothing on today’s calendar except writing blogs” or “Today I’ll whack at the garden-variety weeds that pretend to be my garden.”) I keep a periodic journal that chronicles the progression of life events over years. I read a newspaper each day and pay attention to the various news feeds that scamper out of my smartphone.
My father understood the need for knowing what day it was. In his last years—beset by dementia, legal blindness and a fierce need to know his place in time—he would casually amble to a neighbor’s driveway, picking up their morning newspaper. Holding it close to his fading eyes, he would check to see what day it was—month, date, year, the day’s name. That’s how he kept strong his sense of time.
An overactive sense of urgency isn’t good, either. Too much of our society is time-bound in ways that are harmful. Acutely aware of the value of each moment, we work too hard (even in retirement), thinking that multi-tasking really works or believing that “wasting time” is wrong. I don’t want to err in that direction, either.
I think that’s how my mother thought about time. When she took the MMSE as part of her entrance into assisted living, she scored poorly on several portions of the exam. Not because she was demented, but because she really had no reason to know the date, her (new) state of residence, the name of the president, the names of random object—or how to count backwards from 100 by sevens! What seemed to be the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia was actually the fact that, in her metaphorical sense of reality, “Every day is Saturday!’ That every day was fresh and new, to be clasped tightly to her soul and enjoyed for both its routines and its surprises.
I get that. Because I enjoy the continuing blessing of a lifestyle that’s not stressed by over-commitment or unsustainable responsibilities, I want to savor each once-in-a-lifetime moment as it occurs daily. (“This is the day the Lord hath made!”)
At this time in life, I think I’m balancing those two ends of the time-sense continuum, so I’m happy to tell you that I am writing this on a Saturday evening in the month of August from an undisclosed location in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
Good things to know!
*The MMSE is used regularly to help determine the possibility of cognitive decline in elderly individuals experiencing possible dementia. See one version of the complete form at http://www.heartinstitutehd.com/Misc/Forms/MMSE.1276128605.pdf