Common Sense Caregiving
The Denial of Dementia
In my experience I have only come across one symptom of dementia that appears to be contagious, and that is the mindset of “denial.”
It is quite common to find denial running rampant among the family members of the ones diagnosed with dementia-related disease, but even more often it is discovered coming right from the psychologically imbalanced themselves! “We all get a little forgetful once in a while,“ can often be heard coming from both groups. Beliefs like this can be very dangerous. Allowing those with cognitive impairment to operate behind the wheel, or sanctioning their refusal to see a doctor, can lead to disaster. It’s vital that we find a way to make reality sink in before it’s too late.
Understandably, most folks are afraid to go to their doctor and discuss what symptoms they’re experiencing. They’re terrified they may hear the word “Alzheimer’s.” If this sounds like someone you know, you must make it clear to them that something else could be going on. There could be a vitamin B deficiency or a thyroid problem . . . it may not necessarily be the “big A.”
The family and friends of those diagnosed need to provide as much support as possible. This is only one of the reasons educating the general public is crucial. Dementia is not necessarily a natural part of aging. The occurrence of dementia is a sign that something in the human body is causing it; or it may be a lack of something. Yes we do get a little more forgetful when we get older, but that certainly is not necessarily dementia.
Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center, states that, "Dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer's is the cause of the symptom. A good analogy to the term dementia is "flu." If your doctor tells you that you have the flu, what he is referring to is that you are enduring flu-like symptoms, but it is not informing you what particular virus is causing these symptoms." So, basically dementia is an umbrella term for multiple symptoms such as cognitive impairment, faltering language skills, short attention span, poor decision making and the deterioration of motor skills.
As human beings, we tend to use “denial” as a safety mechanism. It reminds me of the English metaphor of the elephant being in the room; if we don’t acknowledge it, it’s simply not there. Well, it is there. And we need to start talking about it openly! The more we discuss it, the more others will learn. With hope, when people are better-educated, the denial will naturally start slipping away.
Fighting against the cause of dementia related diseases includes educating the public to be aware of all the disabilities involved with the disease. This also means educating physicians and medical professionals as well.
With an early and proper diagnosis patients can immediately be prescribed the correct treatment or therapy and they and their families can plan ahead, starting off on the right foot.
Driving with Dementia
Sundown syndrome—also known as “sundowning”—is a term describing the onset of heavier confusion and intensified agitation in those living with dementia. Usually this begins anywhere from late afternoon to dusk. However in reality, it could happen at any time throughout the day.
The Sunnier Side of Sundowners
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Baker Act: A Dementia Dilemma
Having spoken to hundreds of families in crisis, I have a deep concern regarding when it is or is not an appropriate time to “Baker Act” family members struggling with dementia. After all, it is a 72-hour mandatory commitment for a psychiatric evaluation. This may, depending on the outcome, result in strong resentment and anger that can last a lifetime.
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When a loved one is living with dementia, putting a stop to his or her driving privileges is inevitable. It is also one of the most difficult tasks a caregiver or a family member will ever face.