The season for a new outlook on dementia

Posted on November 25, 2010 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

It’s the time of year when thousands of people from colder climates make their annual pilgrimage to sunny Sarasota, Florida. Most of these people are in their retirement years, and therefore, are enjoying the fruits of their many years of labor. They earned the right to relax, enjoy our beautiful weather and practice the lifestyle in which they always dreamed.  Husbands and wives spending quality time together, grandkids visiting, families connecting, friends socializing – this is truly a wonderful time of year in our part of the world.

Despite the weather, family and friends, I can’t help but wonder how a disorder such as dementia impacts this picturesque situation.

Many times it is during this annual trip to Florida that children and friends begin to notice that Dad isn’t as mentally sharp or outgoing as he was. They notice Dad covering up for Mom’s forgetfulness and odd behavior. The family physician notices that Mom and/or Dad are having difficulty recalling commonly used words.

No, this certainly isn’t what anyone expects or plans.  The unfortunate reality is these changes in cognitive ability are usually ignored for quite some time before anything is done.  The acknowledgement that a relative or friend may have dementia is too uncomfortable for most.  The stigma associated with dementia precludes the patient and family from admitting the presence of dementia.  As a result, everyone is left trying to create the picturesque scenario painted above  - but very, very few will be able achieve it.  It is no longer possible in the same manner and context.

It is ironic how “ignoring” the presence of dementia causes the picture to crack, which is the exact problem people are trying to prevent from happening.

So with the recognition of dementia, a new reality emerges (and yes, this can include the picturesque scene noted above).

The short term reality is the need to get a proper diagnosis and to properly prepare for the challenges ahead.  The long-term reality continues to be trying to maintain a quality of life for all involved, and this can be accomplished as long as the key people understand the situation and educate themselves.

So, as I think of the people described in the first paragraph, I hope they can achieve the quality of life that is truly within their grasp.  I hope they do not let a diagnosis of dementia preclude them from having that quality of life.  I hope they will position themselves to control the disorder versus the disorder controlling them.

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