Ch.223 My Grieving Brain
About eight months ago I made an appointment with a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, WI, asking for neuropsychiatric testing. I did this because I was pretty sure my brain wasn’t operating efficiently or effectively. I felt “foggy,” meaning that I was thinking slower than usual, and nothing seemed clear. Imagine trying to work on a jigsaw puzzle in a dim light with half the pieces turned upside down. That’s what going to the store to buy groceries felt like, as did trying to comprehend my Great Courses dvds on WW1. Something was wrong and, having seen what dementia did to Pat, I feared I was heading in that direction.
I met with Dr. Nye, my neurologist, in May. He had me take tests to ensure I wasn’t thinking poorly due to diabetes, vitamin deficiency, or some other primary problem. The next step was to be a thorough set of neuropsychology tests, which Dr. Nye explained, I would receive asap, meaning in about 6 months. And, finally, that date, Nov. 13, is approaching.
Today, though, I no longer believe I have a thinking problem. My jigsaw skills are good again (though not nearly as good as my daughter Jenny’s) and I find myself eager and able to learn new information. I even offered to cede my appointment to someone who might need it more, although I was told it would be good to establish a mental baseline for me that might help in coming years. So, I’m going, unless I forget, of course.
Today I googled “Grief Brain.” I found a well-researched study indicating that men going through spousal grief have a “significant but moderate” deficit in speed of processing and perhaps working memory, while women undergoing spousal grief have a deficit in working memory. The authors summarized their results with this sentence: “Overall…on average the bereavement has a negative, but modest, effect upon cognition, and the rate of cognitive decline is greater for men than women.”
But why this decline? Tensie Holland, LSW, explains what’s going on: “Your brain is focused on the feelings of grief which leaves little room for your everyday tasks.” She says that “grief brain” affects one’s memory, concentration, and cognition. To me, that’s like my brain saying: “Don’t bother me with the details of life right now, I’m too busy dealing with this terrible loss.”
Early on after Pat died, I took an online pencil drawing class. I began drawing and all went well, until I plunged for a set of 110 pencils, at which point I quit! Now, in retrospect, I believe that purchase represented a transition from unserious hobby to serious “I can get good at this if I really work at it.” And my brain simply wasn’t ready to work that hard on something other than grieving. My brain shut down my interest without an explanation, though, and I’ve been confused about it until now. Perhaps that’s a good example of grief brain in action.
I’m going ahead with the tests in two weeks. I am a little concerned because my memory, always bad, is probably worsening gradually. But memory aside, I hope I will be informed that I have a pretty well-functioning brain for someone my age.
LATER NOTE: I went, I tested, I passed. No cognitive deficits (But still a lousy memory).