TACOMA, WA—Remarking upon the enormous caution she now takes before saying or doing anything in the presence of a loved one, local mother Sharon Powell, 64, told reporters Tuesday she knows any wrong move she makes could be interpreted by her family as a telltale sign of dementia.
Powell claimed that even the simplest memory lapse, such as momentarily forgetting a distant relative’s name or losing track of what day of the week it is, might cause her children to worry that her mental state is in decline, setting into motion an irreversible series of events that would end with her moving into an assisted-care facility.
“I make sure I place my keys in the exact same spot 100 percent of the time. And I always speak at a steady, even pace—too fast and I might trip over a word, too slow and they might think I’m struggling to come up with the right words.”
“I have to be on top of my game every single day, because if I start slipping up, it’s only a matter of time before they put me in a home,” said Powell, who explained that she keeps her calendar by her side whenever she speaks on the phone with family members so she can recall without hesitation the date and time of any upcoming appointment, social event, or anniversary when it’s brought up. “I make sure I place my keys in the exact same spot 100 percent of the time. And I always speak at a steady, even pace—too fast and I might trip over a word, too slow and they might think I’m struggling to come up with the right words.”
“Next week, I’m helping with my grandson Bradley’s ninth birthday, and I know that if I mess up one detail, if I get the wrong kind of frosting or forget the streamers, I’m as good as gone,” she added.
The catalyst for Powell’s concerns was reportedly an incident last Christmas in which she mistook her son’s cell phone for her own, accidentally dialing a number from it. While chastising herself for the small oversight, she noticed her son whispering something to her youngest daughter in the hallway and immediately wondered if they were discussing whether her blunder was a symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Ever since, Powell said, she has altered her behavior to avoid any situation that puts her at risk of appearing confused or forgetful, including cleaning up the slightest signs of clutter, carefully familiarizing herself with the settings on her newly purchased microwave, and double-checking to make sure she hasn’t left even one unpaid bill sitting on her kitchen counter.
“I manage well enough during calls with the kids, but Thanksgiving’s coming up and I’m going to have to be on my toes for four straight days with everyone around,” said Powell, who confirmed that, out of increasing fear that the error would be “the one that does [her] in,” she would be setting multiple timers so she could be absolutely certain she does not burn the turkey. “If I so much as call my grandson by his father’s name in a moment of absentmindedness, there goes my independence. And if I don’t happen to hear everything that one of my kids says to me, there’s no way I’m asking them to repeat it—I’ll just be sticking to a general response of ‘That’s nice,’ making sure I maintain eye contact and deliver those words with confidence.”
“Maybe I should leave some finished crossword puzzles lying around for people to find just in case,” she continued.
Powell went on to state that she must be neatly dressed and perfectly groomed at all times, as any slight inattention to personal care could arouse suspicions of a deteriorating mind. She also noted that after rolling her ankle last week, she avoided contact with her family for several days, fearing they would take her accident as proof that a cognitive impairment was causing her to lose her sense of balance, and that she was in danger of taking a more serious fall at any moment.
“I’ve stopped driving with my kids, because I know a single wrong turn might get them talking about whether it’s time to take my license away,” Powell said. “The last time I went shopping with my daughters, I missed the exit to the mall, and I swear I saw Rebecca raise an eyebrow and exchange glances with Allison. I must be on pretty thin ice already, and one more slip-up could get me carted off to assisted-living.”
“Regardless, though, it’s good for me to keep up these habits,” she added. “That way, when I actually start losing my senses, I’ll already be really good at covering up for it.”