Let me see. Where do I begin the journey of raising awareness of dementia? And how the heck can I help reduce the stigma associated with it? This could take a whole lot of blog posts. Wish I had a secretary.
What is dementia?
So first let me define what dementia is and is not. The short definition is that dementia is an umbrella label that includes over 50 different causes of cognitive impairment. The Gorilla in the room is currently Alzheimer’s. But there are many memory issues that appear to be Alzheimer’s but are not. I’m sure the Orangutan in the room is debatable but I would give Vascular Dementia the nod. More on that later in the series.
So dementia is a grouping of many diseases that have memory loss and/or cognitive impairment as a primary affect.
What dementia is not?
Most people still associate memory loss with aging. Senility is often thought to be forgetfulness due to just getting old. But that just isn’t the case. The truth, according to most reputable sources, is the memory loss is not a natural consequence of aging. You will find in the modern literature that aging is no longer the accepted root cause for dementia. Instead, almost all forms of memory loss or cognitive impairment are symptoms of a physical health problem. About 20% of dementias are reversible or manageable. But there’s also a lot of varieties that are ultimately fatal. The moral of that story is—Go see a doctor if you are forgetting big things, little things or in-between things more than you used to. The best call to action is when you can sense a change in your functioning.
There was a time when dementia was thought of as a mental health issue. People were put in sanitariums for being ‘simple’ or ‘stupid’. They were often old, and lacked a treatable diagnosis that we would recognize today. Senility used to be thought of as a natural result of getting old. Nowadays we call it ‘senior moments’. However you try though, none of these variations on dementia are a mental health issue. Most people with dementia are quite intelligent. And they are quite aware of their surroundings even though you may think otherwise.
Because there was a time in history when people got locked away if they were senile and/or uncooperative, our elders are a bit resistant to admit or acknowledge that they or a family member has dementia. That’s not a problem unless it keeps them from seeing a doctor and from asking for help at the right times. I’ve seen whole families that are in denial and fear revealing that they have someone in their family with ‘dementia’. Of course denial and isolation are the worse things a family can do to their loved one. In this day and age, I would like to encourage everyone to start talking about their memory concerns.
What can I do?
For the moment, let me selfishly point out the memory café network I’ve set up as some great places to begin exploring dementia and memory problems in a safe friendly environment. I’m planning on giving you dozens of other answers to that question. Suffice it to say—there’s a lot you CAN do if you talk with the right sources. Check out http://memoryworks.org/memcafes.html
Until next Blog—keep your chin up– it keeps your glasses from falling off.