My mother recently suffered a minor stroke. Combine with what seems to have been several prior, undetected strokes, she has gone from mild to fairly significant dementia. My sister and I were talking about her recently, and she listed a bunch of cliche phrases that my mother used, like "One day at a time", "time marches on", "so far so good", etc. You can lose a lot of vocabulary and mental capacity and still keep stock phrases.
In "Circles", one of the short sections that makes up the wonderful A Primer for Forgetting, Getting Past the Past, Lewis Hyde remembers his mother's failing intellect. She says a phrase to her husband over and over.
"You're going in circles," Father says. They say the CAT scan showed some atrophy of her frontal lobes, but the old material is still there. She is very much her old self. Her verbal tics and defenses remain. "Well, now Mrs. Pettibone," she says to herself, staring into the refrigerator before dinner. "We'll cope." "We'll get along" She is the shell of her old self, calcified language and no organism alive enough to lay down new layers.
Would it be possible to live in such a way as to never acquire habits of mind? When my short-term memory goes, I don't want to be penned up in the wickerwork of my rote responses. If I start being my old self, no heroic measures, please.
My brother was just over at my mom's. When he brought some boxes in from the storage area, she looked at them said that she is empty box with nothing inside.
Sometimes, behind the wickerwork, you can see eyes peering out.