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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Identity Beyond The Dementia Diagnosis

Its a common malady in health care settings to think of a patient or client in terms of their disease or diagnosis.  Come to think of it, we all have a tendency to view people within a categorical lens; it's what we're taught to do.

Sometimes it seems like people would rather be diagnosed with any other disease than Alzheimer's or dementia.  It is a devastating condition to live with, no doubt.   It can often be even more crushing for the family of the dementia patient.  One of the hardest things in the world to witness is your loved one fading away...and with Alzheimer's/dementia, there are typically years of mental and cognitive decline that precede bodily or physical deterioration.   The person *looks* the same and *seems* the same on the surface, but their personality, language ability and memories are being torn away from them.   That's a terrifying and sad thing to see happen in the people who mean a lot to us.

Still, a dementia diagnosis need not be the end of the world.

Just because your loved one can't recall what they did five minutes earlier, doesn't mean they don't enjoy continuing to share and engage in their relationships.  Dementia can be an isolating disease, whether the individual lives in a long term care facility or in the community.   In the earlier stages, the person often is able to recognize that something is not right within them.   They notice some of the mental and cognitive  changes taking place.  Many people become embarrassed or ashamed by what is happening to them, and therefore begin to pull away from their family, friends,  and activities.  They don't want anyone to perceive that they have a memory problem and they certainly don't want to be identified solely by this degenerative and mind-robbing condition.

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease or dementia,  one of the best things you can do for them is continue to include them in your life.   It doesn't matter if you are repeating the same news over and over to them, or if they tell you the same stories from their childhood as though its the first time they shared it with you.    People with dementia just want to have someone they can talk with.   It means so much to be able to share in other people's lives and keeping connected to the world outside sometimes helps the person with dementia to retain many  of their cognitive skills for a longer time than if they remained isolated.

And keep in mind: dementia may be a part of the person's medical diagnosis, but it is not ALL of what makes them who they are and always were to you.


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