I have written a little about my father having health issues. His problems stem from a syndrome in which is his involuntary nervous system slowly stops functioning which causes all kinds of problems, including shrinkage of the brain and dementia that results from that. Because of his high level of intelligence, he was able to “fake” his sanity for quite a while whenever he talked to health and emergency professionals. This includes the police which he occasionally called to the house when he was delusional. He is now in full-time skilled nursing care because his physical and mental functioning has deteriorated to the point that my mother cannot care for him. He still insists nothing is wrong with him, but is no longer able to convince anyone of this.
I have recently had some experiences that have helped me to understand my father’s mindset. I feel very fortunate to have inherited both of my parents’ intelligence. I’ve done well in school over the years, and understanding abstract concepts has normally been a skill I have excelled at accomplishing. Math, spelling, and grammar never gave me much problems. Until the last few years.
I took several standardized tests that required me to brush up on my math skills back in 2002 and another one around 2003, and breezed through all of them – no problems. Recently, I tried to brush up on my math skills to take the GMAT, and nothing was working correctly in my head. The simplest arithmetic concepts not only were no longer in my head, but I couldn’t refresh them and make them “stick”. I had been noticing in the past few years that remembering things – simple things – like my zip code, or how to spell words, or even a word I wanted to use in a sentence – would often elude me. Sometimes I thought I was going nuts. The amount of study effort that it required for me to succeed in my college classes was much higher than it used to be. Plus, I was listening much slower than I used to. But I chalked it up to menopausal brain fog. And the fact that technology was simply speeding up people around me. But I worried that I was getting early dementia like my father!
One of the classes I recently completed was Anatomy & Physiology. We studied how neurotransmitters work inside the brain. That made me wonder if any medication could cause this change in cognitive function that I was experiencing. Low and behold, I discovered that a medication that I started taking several years ago, Topamax, indeed has a known set of side effects of impairing memory and cognitive function (like spelling and word recall). Unfortunately, part of the problem is I can’t remember when the symptoms started and I can’t remember when I started taking the medication to know if the two absolutely correlate with one another.
I can honestly say that I have not had any severe migraines since I started taking the medication, but if the cost is that I can no longer function at my peak intelligence, then the cost is too high. I’ll take a few headaches and mood swings for the ability to solve a polynomial, thank you.