So someone close to you in your life is starting to act strangely (forgetting events or conversations, not recognizing your sarcasm like she used to, acting confused in moments she shouldn’t be, imagining things, acting defensive, and many more lovely things); you are wondering if it is dementia.
First of all – what the hell is dementia?
Dementia is not a normal part of aging; it is a progressive condition caused by many diseases, the most well-known and largest cause being Alzheimer’s disease (but there are many different kinds). It leads to an individual, typically 65 or older (but in some cases as early as 40) losing his or her brain function in a way that is atypical to the natural aging process. It leads to impairment in five areas:
- psychiatric, and
Each may be seen at different times in different ways for each individual. We often notice it first related to short-term memory loss and confusion.
This video is an excellent example of what to look for if you are not sure if it makes sense to be suspicious.
When someone has dementia, the hippocampus (a fancy little wish-boney shaped thing in the brain responsible for making memories each day) starts losing brain cells. They simply die. Ok – not simple…it is a little more complex, but for right now…they just die. In a properly-functioning brain, the hippocampus makes memories as you live your life, and then at night, when you sleep (why good sleep is so important!), the hippo transfers those short term memories to another home in the cerebral cortex and those memories are stored. That’s where long-term memories live.
When the hippo cannot do its job, memories do not get stored. Thus, a person with dementia loses the actual memory of something that has recently happened…it is not there, so it cannot be recalled.
Let me be clear with you – nothing about this situation you are currently trying to decode or anything that is going to come in the future related to this is going to be simple or easy to understand. If you feel confused, overwhelmed, sad, or panicked… that’s about right.
Now, that doesn’t mean there can’t be positivity, love, laughter, and peace…but don’t worry if right now you feel like that would be impossible. You’ll get there.
I think (based on my hindsight) there are three major things to focus on at this point:
- Get the loved-one to have important conversations
- Get to a doctor to get an early diagnosis (and get a 2nd and 3rd opinion)
- Start the process of resetting your mindset about this person
These are my recommendations and I will elaborate on them more in part 2 of this post.
Deep breath. You can do this – and you’re not alone.