The Austin-based journalist Michael Andor Brodeur recently wrote about devices designed to locate missing items, such as car keys and cellphones. Among companies active in this field is Tile, a device that will search for missing items within a 100-feet radius “and play a loud tune until you find it.” One of Tile’s competitors, The O, appears to be a bit more upscale, making its sensor-fobs look like jewelry. The cost for a starter kit is $139.
I imagine that for certain people, The O, Tile, and similar products would be helpful, maybe essential. And, yes, from time to time I do have to call my cellphone on my landline to discover where in my house I left it. Usually I hear it faintly beeping from inside the pocket of the jacket I last wore. But for people dealing with early-stage Alzheimer’s, as well as those who are just chronically absent-minded, there is a simpler way, at no real cost, to cut down on the time spent looking for things.
Last year at this time, I was working with Dr. Laura Phillips, a neuropsychologist at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. I met Dr. Phillips in March 2014, about four months after another doctor at the hospital had intimated that I might be experiencing the symptoms of dementia. When my diagnosis was confirmed more than a year later, I was assigned to work with Dr. Phillips, as a means of mitigating the symptoms. One of the first things Dr. Phillips suggested was to purchase a notebook, the kind that is bound like a book, along with a weekly planner.
The blank book, what I call the “purple book,” has been particularly helpful. Unlike with my weekly planner, the purple book rarely leaves our home. Occasionally I use it for brief journal entries, but the more important role is to serve as a reference for hints for various passwords—especially for those long strings of characters that Verizon requires when we’re having problems with our Internet service. The book also serves as a place to enter contact information for people I’ve met from the Alzheimer’s Association or on the state panel I serve on that focuses on providing services for people with Alzheimer’s.
Each object that I use daily—wallet, keys, cellphone, reading glasses—has a designated place. My wristwatch, for example, hangs on a hook near our sink, so there will be no chance of my plunging the watch into the dishwater. Do I still misplace things? Yes, often. But not as often as I did when I first starting experiencing the symptoms of dementia. The one object that I most misplace is my favorite pair of reading glasses. If I did an inventory, I would probably find more than half-a-dozen other pairs, some of which I should have already discarded, because they no longer meet my needs.
Dr. Phillips also advised me to limit clutter in our home, and, while the results were modest, they were steps in the right direction. For the first time in a couple of years, I had tidied up our narrow, walk-in-a-crouch attic space. The effect was short-lived. Roughly six weeks into the new year—Valentine’s Day’s, to be precise—a pipe burst due to the cold, and, a moment later, I beheld a fishbowl-shaped light fixture in our front hallway filling up with water. The only thing missing from the scene was a goldfish or two floating belly-up, after dying from the shock. The good news was that nothing caught on fire. The bad news was overwhelming: All the boots, shoes, coats, and books in our front hallway and all the books, photos, files, office supplies, and other items in the home office had to be stored somewhere else while repairs were made over the next month. The result was a packed attic crawlspace, a packed front enclosed porch, a coat tree and desks moved into the living room, and important papers stored in the dining room. Not exactly what Dr. Phillips had prescribed.