I have to presume that they deal with a range of mental health problems here because the two girls to my left, drinking from tins, were very young, multi studded and attired from hair to feet in black. They’re laughing together over a book they've plucked from a random mini library of paperbacks in the waiting area. I guess you can help yourself to a book and take it with you when you leave. If there’s the possibility of reading through an entire paperback while you wait, it doesn’t bode well.
To the other side there is an elderly lady with a walking frame, she’s listening intently to the man seated beside her, I think he’s her taxi driver. He’s giving a loud lecture on the reasons why, according to him, people develop memory problems in old age.
'It’s not their fault,' he expounds. 'The world is moving too fast, think of the changes they've had to adapt to in their lifetime.'
I feel my left eyebrow lift in suppressed exasperation.
An efficient looking young lady approaches and invites me to follow her. I do and we go to a tiny room with no window. She introduces herself and explains that she’s the clinical psychologist. She talks me through the tests that she’ll be doing. Basically they’ll be extensions of the basic test I was given at my first assessment. These were exactly the same as the questions the GP had asked me when I started on this voyage of discovery months ago. They are available on the internet in an area near you.
These tests will be more in depth and examine different areas of brain processes, not simply straightforward memory.
Okay bring it on.
She (I think her name was Toni) asks me some general questions about why I think I have memory problems. The difficulty here being that under pressure I forget to tell her about several things I deem important. They’re written down on a crib sheet but I feel awkward about asking if I can read it. Crazy! – I've got memory problems how can I be expected to remember all this stuff unaided?
Toni is business-like and reassuringly professional. She appears to know what she’s doing. I decide that I like her and relax a little.
The first test is a list of words which Toni reads out to me. I have to repeat back all the words that I remember. I don’t fare well. She repeats the test several times but, although I can recall the first few words and the last couple, the ones in the middle continue to evade me.
As the tests progress I begin to see how they're working on various functions of the brain. Some things, like sequencing, I seem to be okay with, although Toni provides no feedback at all so it’s not always easy to tell. She would make an excellent poker player.
The hardest test is at the end and nearly makes my brain blow a fuse. Toni reads a sentence to which I must add the last word but that last word mustn't make sense. For example:
"The girl picked up the keys from the table and went outside to lock the…" Now the word I have to insert here MUSTN'T make sense so words like "car", "shed" or "garage" the automatic words I might use are no good. It has to be a word that makes the sentence nonsense. So difficult! My brain is desperate to provide logical words and I can’t think of any alternatives to put in their place. I stumble through this last test but it takes far longer than I would like with many long silences as I try to veer away from the sensible answer.
Toni explains what will happen next. She’ll score these tests and meet with the clinical psychiatrist. On my next appointment, I’ll undergo a physical examination to rule out, or in, any other illness that might account for my perceived memory loss and associated dementia-like symptoms. Depression, poor sleep pattern, vascular problems, etc. could all be possible causes. Toni had touched on my deplorable sleep pattern during this visit and came to the conclusion that it was rubbish. She didn't use that terminology but I was left in no doubt that there was room for improvement. After this I will meet with both psychologist and psychiatrist together and they will tell me their findings but there will be at least a two month wait before I get an appointment.
Toni smiles across at me.
'Most people feel very tired after these sessions and that’s quite normal. You've been making your brain work hard and forcing it to explore areas that aren't used so often.'
I acknowledge that I've developed a headache.
Toni escorts me to the door of the reception area. I leave and sit in the car for a few moments reassessing events. I'm surprised to note that I’d been in the clinic for nearly two hours.