After seven years of advocating about the importance of early diagnosis of any type of dementia (Alzheimer’s is one type), I would have to say that denial is still the biggest factor in preventing early diagnosis and treatment.
Even my own friends, who have endured my harping for years about getting their parent(s) evaluated at the first signs of short-term memory loss, seem to procrastinate and wait until a crisis occurs.
I couldn’t understand how denial could be so prevalent and why anyone would want to wait, especially since there are four medications that help slow down/mask symptoms, buying precious time for independence and time for medical science to come up with better meds or a cure.
But then I understood it, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As I endured six months of dense-dose chemotherapy, I started to experience my own intermittent short-term memory loss, commonly known as “chemo brain”. It was so scary, especially the time I discovered that I’d left the stove on and had no memory of doing so.
I already had eight speaking engagements booked, and I am glad I did because they gave me a reason to get out of bed. My doctor cautioned that I was taking a huge risk traveling because my immune system was so compromised, so I wore a mask on the planes, which worked like a charm at keeping people from sitting next to me.
I brought my Neupogen medication (packed in ice) to inject myself with, which kept my blood count up. I used a hand-sanitizer constantly and didn’t shake hands or hug anyone, and just told everyone I was just getting over a cold and didn’t want to spread it. I was lucky I didn’t get sick, because it would have delayed my treatment.
It was quite ironic though. There I am speaking about short-term memory loss… and… I HAVE IT The experience gave me the most valuable insight into my work, because now I really KNOW how upsetting and terrifying it is to not have any memory of something that you just did or said.
I went into denial myself, until I left my stove on for the fourth time. I could not fathom that I had done it AGAIN. I finally covered it up with a big sign, “You are not competent to use this!”-and exclusively used the microwave after that.
I think I was able to get through my ordeal because my doctor told me so often that my “chemo brain” would eventually go away after treatment, which it did. But what about the FIVE MILLION people with Alzheimer’s, whose short-term memory is not going to come back and is only going to get worse? And what about the millions more who are still in denial and are yet to be diagnosed?
Since one out of eight of us will get dementia by the age of 65, and since denial is such a common defense mechanism, the answer is to make dementia evaluations a standard part of yearly physicals starting at age 65. If yearly testing could just become common and accepted, millions more could be kept in the early stages and live independently for a longer period of time, delaying the heartbreak of full time care.
You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.