It’s been over a year, dear readers, since I wrote about being diagnosed with dementia. I know my memory is worse, and while I have not become an authority on the condition, allow me to kick around some thoughts and experiences.

First of all, is it dementia or is it Alzheimer’s? Beats me. Alzheimer’s is a definite deterioration of the brain and is fatal while dementia is confusion and forgetfulness and you can have it without having Alzheimer’s. Or so I like to think. Almost everything is harder to do now, such as writing this column and putting on eyeliner.

One of the many symptoms is self-isolation. I realize I’ve been doing that, but then again I could blame COVID or the weather. I don’t have as much laundry; I can get several days out of one bathrobe.

I read an article about a man who claims he was cured of Alzheimer’s through exercise and diet. As I recall he did strenuous exercise, twice a day for more than two hours at a crack, and his wife prepared no-meat/no-fat/no-fun meals for him three times a day. Talk about true love (or exploitation). Unlikely as it sounds, there’s a chance I could work up to two hours of exercise a day, but the rest of my day would consist of naps and/or watching TV. I already have those two covered.

I think I wrote a column several years ago saying that it would be a good job if everybody wore name tags. I’ve lived in my building long enough that I should know the names of the people that I know I know, especially when they greet me by name, but I can’t always respond in kind. It’s painful — not for them, but for me — to chat for several minutes with someone and then say, “I’m sorry. What’s your name?”

I have not stopped being a political junkie, and at any given time I could probably give you a decent update on the war in Ukraine or Lori Lightfoot’s ongoing efforts to place one or both feet in her mouth. I would be at a loss to explain the lying egotistical falls of Jussie Smollett and Mike Madigan, but wouldn’t it be fun if somebody wrote a play about those two as cellmates? If comedians/actors are to become the face of politics, I nominate Jon Stewart.

I feel as if Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight cast of reporters/characters are part of my family: the Smart-But-Nice-Sister Brandis Friedman, Everybody’s-Multi-Talented-Brother Paris Schutz, and Everybody’s-Smart-But-Annoying-Sister Amanda Vinicky. No, I do not talk to the screen. Yet.

In my previous column on my dementia, I wrote about an aunt who had dementia and would burst into song frequently. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, who also had dementia, had 8-10 children. She lost her inhibitions (if she ever had any) and used to ask my older sisters, “What’s more fun than two in bed?” An apparent free spirit, she was also at the Haymarket riot with a baby in her arms. 

When she started to “lose it,” she would try to sneak out at night in her night clothes to get on the el and go to work. Once when I was chatting about Chicago family lore with a former boss of mine, it turned out that when his mother was failing, she too had tried a few times in the middle of the night to get out, get on the el, and get to work. The el certainly played, and still plays, a role in the lives of working-class people. I marvel at women who raised large families and still had outside jobs. Or thought they did. Or imagined they did. Or wished they did. I also wish I had asked more questions.

A few months ago, I was given a new medication. I felt strange when I was falling asleep. It occurred to me that the worst possible side effect of the drug would be that I’d get up in the middle of the night and head for the el, trying to get to work. 

Even though I never took the el to work.

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...