The Sixth Decade and The Joys of Short-Term Memory Loss

by Bella Rum


I recently took a short-term memory test to qualify for long-term-care insurance. I know there’s some irony in there somewhere.

I have AFib which increases the risk of stroke and dementia. H’s former employer recently offered group LTC coverage in our health plan. We thought it would be a good opportunity to get a decent rate.

Most experts say you should apply for long term care insurance in your late fifties to early sixties. “Twenty-three percent of policy applicants in their sixties don’t pass the required physical, and forty-five percent of people in their seventies fail.” The average age of a LTC applicant is sixty-one.

At sixty-one, I’m three years younger than H, but he passed with flying colors. They couldn’t sign him up fast enough, and he didn’t even have to take a memory test. Except for slight hypertension, he’s in perfect health. They approved him immediately. But to the younger, sassier and much cuter one, whose heart races like a frightened bunny rabbit and who is probably losing brain cells at the rate those bunny rabbits multiply, Not so fast. We have a few questions for you , missy. (I have no idea how to punctuate that pathetic sentence, but I’m going with it.)

I’ve never suffered from test aversion or panic attacks related to taking tests, but the nurse just had to go and say, “I’m going to ask a few questions, and your answers will affect your insurability.” I immediately experienced a swift loss of every single morsel of information in my brainpan. This is not hyperbole. It was sickening. There was nothing but panic and darkness. This was something new. It had never happened to me before.

Her tone was that of a prosecutor. She was completely indifferent – not your basic-friendly-put-you-at-ease sort of nurse. My personal comfort was not her concern. Her voice was devoid of human inflection. There was no animosity, friendliness, compassion, frustration, or rudeness. There was no indication that she had any interest whatsoever in my answers. Her voice was completely neutral. She could have been a robot.

If you’re someone who is about to go through this experience, let me reassure you. The test is not difficult, and you shouldn’t have any problem. It’s pretty basic stuff and no one remembers everything. A certain amount of memory loss is normal at this age. My problem was not related to short-term memory loss. It was all about panic. If I had it to do over, I would just tell her that I was having an anxiety attack, but of course, I was busy having an anxiety attack.

There were a bazillion questions about my health before we even got to the memory test, questions that my doctor had already answered. And she recorded everything I said . It was intimidating if not adversarial. That was my perception anyway.

Then, the short-term-memory test began. She asked, “What year is it?” I’ve never experienced anything like what happened next. My mind went completely blank. The shades came down and I was in total darkness. I stammered and stuttered and finally came up with 2011, but it was very difficult and I still don’t know where the answer came from. “When is your birthday.”  I managed that one. “What day of the week is it?” I had no clue but after a few stumbles, I came up with it. Then came the questions that required common sense and a touch of reasoning. What would you do if  you discovered a fire in your house? What would you do if you were locked out of your house?

These questions helped me to relax a little, but not really. The questions would not have challenged a child in second grade, but my mind would not fully engage.

Simple exercises followed. Repeat the next ten words after me and use them in a sentence. Tap the table three times with this pencil, say your first name and tap two more times. Divide 56 by 2 – without using a pencil. Subtract 167 from 386, etc. Then, more and more questions that a seven-year-old could answer. I stammered and stuttered and struggled through. Then, the BIG question that I had known was coming down the pike from the first minute the test began. Remember those ten words? What were they?


I remembered 7. Not bad methinks.

But… as soon as the test was over, I remembered every single word. I can still remember every single word. They are seared into the interior walls of my skull. I’ll tell you about how I remembered five of them.






I remembered the first three by relating them to anniversaries. Paper is for the first anniversary. Crystal (not glass but close enough) is the 15th. Silver is the 25th. Two of the words were related to my parents – mother and captain. Everyone calls Dad Captain. So those five were easy. Of course, they were not in order. They were scattered among five other words, and I think I deserve credit for being clever enough to figure out a way to remember them.

Then, she asked me to name as many vegetables and fruits as I could. Well, just let me say this about that. I know my veggies! By golly, this is where I excelled. She finally had to tell me to stop. I could have kept going for days, y’all. Ugli fruit (Jamaican tangelo), fiddlehead ferns and the beautiful ackee were still left in my barrel… not to mention the common rutabaga.

When it was all over, I felt as if I’d been interrogated. I did pass and I got a pretty decent rate. I hope it’s money wasted and I never have to use it. Next week on the agenda: a new will, medical directive, living will and power of attorney. Oh, the joys of the sixth decade! Will they ever stop?

First Image: Ackee
Jamaica’s national fruit, the fruit of the ackee is not edible in its entirety. Only the inner, fleshy yellow arils are consumed. The red bits in the center are extremely poisonous. Source