628 Days

628 Days

To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

By Dr. Jim Ferguson
This is a special time for me because as I begin this essay my daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren are winging their way to Knoxville from Portland, Oregon. Due to Covid, it has been 628 days since I last saw them.
I have written essays featuring each of my five grandchildren. Three live in Knoxville, and I see them regularly. But two live a continent away, and FaceTime is not the same as being with someone in person. This Independence Day all my family will be together.
Many times, I’ve thought about families who put their loved ones on rickety ships like the Mayflower sailing westward across the stormy Atlantic or Conestoga wagons to travel to the west along the Oregon Trail, knowing they probably would never see or hear from their loved ones again.
We moderns are indeed fortunate. Though I have been prevented from seeing my Oregon family for almost two years, I have been able to communicate with them via pictures, videos, FaceTime, telephone, text messaging and email. I feel like I’ve been a part of my granddaughters’ early years, even though they will not remember me or know much about their grandfather, JD. I plan to change that situation during this Fourth of July week. My Portland granddaughters were three and one year old when we were last together, and few of us have any memories from childhood until we are at least three years old.
The natural tendency is to take memories for granted. Dementia has taught us we should not. A friend of mine felt self-conscious and apologized for his use of hair coloring. It was not vanity. He explained that his wife with dementia did not recognize “the man with gray hair.”
Interestingly, dementia preferentially affects what we call short term memory. In other words, remembering what you had for breakfast or where you went to lunch after church last Sunday. The problem is the formation of new memories. Early on, patients with cognitive impairment can recall events from years ago with remarkable clarity and yet are unable to recall events from yesterday. We are all forgetful at times, but memory loss in people with dementia is greater and impairs their activities of daily living.
Without getting lost in scientific weeds, short term memory is associated with “transient patterns of neuronal communication” stimulated by visual and hearing cues/inputs. Long-term memory is associated with “more permanent neuronal connections” and “methylation of DNA” (chemical modification).
Have you ever wondered why you remember some things and not others? Obviously, you remember special people (family) or special events (1969 Moon landing). But for unknown reasons I seem to remember arcane medical factoids. Years ago, I read a throw away observation that memories are best imprinted if associated with smells and sex! This may be an evolutionary-driven imperative, but I assure you medical journals are not aphrodisiacs.
The olfactory nerve sits above the nasal passages and transmits the sensory impulses of smell to the brain. An area of the brain called the hippocampus lies in close proximity to the olfactory nerve and is responsible for projecting sensory signals to the appropriate areas of the brain for interpretation. The name hippocampus comes from Greek because this brain structure looks like a seahorse. This structure is also close to the temporal lobe, a major area where memories are stored. The hippocampus is damaged early in Alzheimer’s disease, explaining why short-term memory loss is an early finding in this scourge.
That is enough arcane medicine and neuroanatomy for a July 4th essay. A more practical question on Independence Day is, “What if we purge the collective memory banks of America’s history?” There would be no memory of the Greatest Generation, the issues of the Civil War, no Founding Fathers, Constitutional compromise or Pilgrims. History could then be redacted and “misremembered” history of the woke, progressive 1619 project and its racist critical race theory. I just learned that UNC granted a tenured professorship to the New York Times journalist who concocted this latest iteration of the left’s Big Lie. Now, the younglings at UNC can be properly indoctrinated with group speak, groupthink and progressive-socialist conformity. What if this claptrap occurs all over the United States and becomes “approved” reality? We would be China and George Orwell’s dystopian vision in his novel 1984 would be our reality.
With the Fourth of July holiday most are off work Monday, so this is a shortened work week – at least for those who still work. There will only be four days to pick up a Focus newspaper this week. Therefore, I’ve decided to spend more time with my family, who have now arrived safely. Instead of searching for additional lines of prose. I have decided to “focus” on making memories with my family. I pray that each of you are doing the same.
I wish those who identify as Americans a happy Fourth of July. I will not consider the track and field hammer thrower who disgraced herself and is obviously more interested in herself than representing her country at the Olympic games. And I will add a point of consideration regarding Ole Joe’s recurrent inappropriate behavior, a very common occurrence in people with dementia. I find his condition worthy of a Greek tragedy. So, as we watch iPOTUS, consider that he may be following his doctor’s orders and working to stimulate his memory with aromatherapy.

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