Thoughts about Late Onset Attention Deficit Disorder and the need to slow it down!  Read Proust!  Make Madeleines!

There is some confusion about the definition of “early onset Alzheimer’s”.  Originally, apparently, it meant Alzheimer’s attacking the brain early in life. Like in a person’s forties. Although, some have subsequently interpreted it to mean the early stages of Alzheimer’s, no matter the age of the victim. 

I worry about memory loss. We all do. Although, gratefully, I have passed the age of fitting neatly into the original definition. 

My current concern, however, is “late onset Attention Deficit Disorder”.  

I once had a healthy attention span, I promise you. Well, until recently. 

When my siblings and I were adolescents, Mother, a bit concerned about her bookish offspring, took us camping every summer to distract us, to normalize us.  We did manage to pitch the tent. It was one of those heavy canvas jobs with a center pole. It leaked like a sieve in the rain and smelled like a tent.  Once we had, at length, managed to hoist that thing upright, and bang the supporting pegs into rocky soil, we parked our sleeping bags on our cots. Ah, camping!  We dove into our book bags and settled in for a relaxing holiday. Mother tried her best to interest us in swimming and fishing and such. To no avail. Our bodies may have been nestled among the lakes and streams, the rocks and rills of south western Ontario, but our conscious minds were in nineteenth century Russia under the auspices of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, or in England frittering away our lives with Austen and Dickens, determined to work our way through the list of 100 Greatest Books of All Time, handed out by an overzealous English teacher as he sprinted for the door. 

Of course, we didn’t have the life experience to benefit from all that those books had to offer, but we did have one requisite skill. We had attention spans. Camping was just endless tent time! We were delighted. Mother was exasperated. 

Oh, Mother was a reader, don’t get me wrong. And she worked valiantly in our early years to encourage us to become readers as well. It was just that, by the time we reached our teens, she began to fear that she had rather overshot the mark. 

The point here is, that, in those halcyon years before the flash and dazzle of computers, and the internet and smartphones and tablets and snapchat and “apps” and “notifications”- we had attention spans. And I’m not sure whether I, or very many others, have such a thing anymore. It’s a worry. The attention span seems to have gone the way of the carrier pigeon and the dodo bird. Soon we may not have the concentration required to worry about global warming and we’ll all be doomed dodos!

Perhaps we should concentrate on ways to quiet the noise in our heads. Pick up a book. Read it. You think you can because you always could?  Give it a whirl. It may not be as easy and natural as it once was. Attention spans are apparently like rubber bands. If they’re not regularly stretched, they become atrophied. So slow down. Unwind. Unplug. It’s not too late, but before we know it, it will be. Quit being impressed that the kids can do shiny things that you can’t do, and take the time to teach them to do the things you can. Reading, for instance, is a thing.  Reading long sentences and paragraphs and whole books. Not the online summary. Not the movie. 

Slow down. 

Make Madeleines. 


Read the recipe. Turn on the oven. Measure the ingredients. Take the time. Think about Proust:

“Struggling to recapture details of his childhood and youth, the narrator Marcel Proust tastes a piece of a 'petite madeleine' cake steeped in lime-blossom tea, and something very odd happens:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.

~ Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1  

If you have Madeleine pans, great. But they are just as delicious made in muffin tins. 


Makes about 15 cakes.

“Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour scalloped madeleine shells or muffin tins.

Melt and allow to cool to lukewarm:

¾ cup clarified butter

Heat until lukewarm in the top of a double boiler over – not in – boiling water:

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

Stir constantly. Remove from heat and beat until thick but light and creamy, incorporating as much air as possible. When cool, sift and add gradually:

1 cup sifted cake flour

Add the melted butter and

1 tablespoon rum or brandy (I used brandy)

1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp grated lemon rind (I used the lemon)

Refrigerate for a good hour before filing the shell forms or muffin tins. 

Bake shells about 8 minutes; muffins about 15 minutes, until a delicate brown. Cool on a rack shell side up.

When cool drizzle with lemon glaze (just a mixture of lemon zest, lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar).”

With thanks to the intrepid Celeste Guse who took the time to delight our book club, a group dedicated to the preservation of the attention span, with these delectable confections that slowed time just long enough for us to wish for time to slow just a little bit longer, time to give a thought to Proust, before the modern world steals our attention away, and perhaps keeps it forever.