Dementia: To Know or Not To Know, A Ponderance

Leah Health Guide
  • A reader posed a most intriguing question to me giving me pause for thought:  Would I, if I had it to do over again, want to know my diagnosis of dementia?   I answered in fifty words or less...but the question begs for further exploration.


    Each of us is different-that's a "duhhhh" statement if I ever heard one; but it's so true and much of the time, I think we forget this in our daily struggles to get through life.  It's just so much easier to think that everyone else thinks or SHOULD think the same way we would make life much easier, right?  Maybe.  But life would certainly be a whole lot more boring!

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    My answer-for me-to the question posed was that I would most definitely want to know the diagnosis.  I have always been like that.  I don't have to like the diagnosis, whatever it may be, but knowing WHAT it is, in a way, EMPOWERS me.


    I knew something was wrong.  I couldn't ignore the signs of memory loss and the frustration I was feeling.  My doctors originally put me off by saying that it was "normal" to have some memory loss as we age.  I knew it was more than that, but I played their game.  I waited three months, then six months, noting the problems I was having.  Finally, after continuing to complain, I was sent to a neurologist and, eventually, for testing.  The key was that I was persistent.  Doctors are not infallible.  They see many patients, and we are all thrown into what the "norm" is until we can prove otherwise.  The patient must be his/her own advocate-and, if necessary, enlist the help of family or friends who can give further information.  Once I was given the diagnosis of vascular dementia, I knew I wasn't "going crazy".  I was not out of my mind, I just was no longer totally "of my mind".  I was different; my life would be different.  I held the diagnosis in my hand, walked out of the office, and said to myself, "I can do this!"  Of course, once this phase ended, another exploded on the scene.  I lamented about what the future held for my family, my husband especially, as he would be my caregiver.  Immediately, as usual, I over-reacted for a short time, offering him a divorce (WHAT was I thinking, I think now...) But the truth is, I believe this reaction to be normal-if for no one else than me.


    The next and current phase was one of pro-action.  Once I knew my husband was by my side, I began to arm myself with all the information I could get-much of which I have to constantly revisit as my memory is so short.  I learned of the many kinds of dementia, vascular and Alzheimers being but two.  I learned that each type of dementia carried its own set of difficulties and paths.  And, I started and continue to exercise my mind in every way I can.


    But back to choices...the choice to know or not know of your diagnosis.  My decision to know was important to me.  I have found, in my research, that the sooner one finds out what is wrong, the sooner medication, etc. can be started.  With medications like Aricept, many people can live full lives much longer.  One side of me can understand why one would not want to know about having dementia, but what you don't know CAN hurt you.  I can't fault someone for being hesitant due to fear of the unknown.  I would hope, though, that he/she has a loved one or friend who can be a kind and gentle supporter, encouraging him/her to seek help from a doctor.


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Published On: November 04, 2009