Updated: May 4
Have you ever taken a cruise, or even thought about doing so? Getting aboard a cruise ship for the first time and not knowing what is coming next might create a bit of fear. Fear that may have kept you from booking the trip for months, and maybe from doing it at all.
Not being able to “see land,” or the destination can sometimes lead to anxiety. But turn that understanding around, once experienced, you may not be able to imagine a life without the joy of meeting new people and exploring new cultures. But even well-worn ship captains use tools on every voyage, to safely navigate and make steady progress, a map and a compass. Not knowing what’s coming next can be frustrating and even disastrous, but with guidance and the right information, there can be a steady calm in the midst of the stormiest weather.
Dementia, like cancer, is a term often fraught with an enormous amount of fear and anger stemming in large part, from a shortage of information, or sometimes, too much. It's not uncommon for someone who has lived with a chronic and/or life-threatening illness, or who has acted as a caregiver, upon hearing the topic of a specific disease feels so much pain that they do not wish to revisit the experience in any way, shape or form. Repeated exposure may help dampen the immediate response, but deep down, without an ability to process the unpleasant feelings, and without the right tools, it can remain painful for some time.
In the case of Dementia, knowing is hard, but good. It's hard because we basically understand the nature of what it is, a gradual loss of cognitive abilities. But it's also good, and valuable because the act of “knowing more” can actually relieve at least some of the anxiety. Having a map and a compass allows you to plan your actions and enhance your responses as you cross the sea of life.
Without a doubt, if you believe you or a loved one or friend is experiencing one or more cognitive challenges, it is imperative to sort through what's going on and begin to understand the possible causes, progression (if, in fact, it's Dementia), care or interventions that make the most sense given whatever you learn. Neurologists (brain specialists), and particularly those who specialize in Dementia, are the current “Ship Captains” for a full cognitive workup.
That's not to say that primary care physicians don't play an important role, they do. Even trained social workers, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, and many other types of healthcare professionals can lend a hand with identifying issues that need more insight and testing. Don't walk out of an annual check-up and say “everything's okay,” if you know in your heart-of-hearts it isn't, or if others you respect and love say that there's something “still going on.” Dig deeper. Get a check-up from the neck-up, as Zig Ziglar used to say. Having a “neuropsych” examination, as well as blood tests, a nutritional evaluation, and maybe even certain scans or more advanced tests are often the right things to do. Eliminate all possible causes, even reversible forms, of cognitive difficulty and as with most major health issues, seek second opinions as necessary.
Over the next four months, we're going to more closely explore the following leading forms of Dementia: Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia. Then we will follow with lesser-known types of Dementia which may result from traumatic brain injury (TBI), repetitive concussions (CTE), infections/viruses (CJD and HIV), alcoholism, and others. Knowledge is like a compass rose, always pointing north, it can guide, empower, and reduce anxiety. Like a ship setting sail to a new port of call, with a good map and a reliable compass, having "knowledge" tools enable you to chart a course towards your best possible tomorrow.
Author: Kevin Jameson, Volunteer | President | Chairman. Dementia Society of America. Dementia Society, Inc. does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor.
Learn more at www.dementiasociety.org.