Monday, March 8, 2010

"Mom's always been this way. It's just worse now."

I can't tell you how many times I heard that statement from the adult children of a dementia patient struggling with the issue of whether Mom actually had dementia or not. The behaviors were already there -- the constant anxiety about insignificant things that had progressed into paranoia, the constant nattering chatter that no longer had any censor on it at all or, conversely, the tendency to be depressed that had progressed into a complete withdrawal from the world. And now that I live in close proximity to someone who exhibits these characteristics I understand more fully the underlying question: if these obvious signs of dysfunctional behavior were there all along to a lesser extent is this really dementia? And if it is dementia were they always suffering from dementia? As a Family Consultant it led me to question what dementia actually is. And what, if anything, could have been done about it from a behavioral point of view?

There have been multiple studies that have correlated the incidence of Alzheimer's Disease with a much higher then average incidence of depression or excessive anxiety earlier in life. There is also fairly conclusive evidence that people who stay happily actively engaged in life and who use their minds more regularly are more likely to keep their ability to function -- even with the supposedly tell-tale indicators of Alzheimer's Disease that are used to give a more precise "diagnosis" after death. The famous Alzheimer's Disease Nun study is a good place to learn more about that.  I was fairly convinced as a Family Consultant that something could have been done, should have been done, but the "what" eluded me then, continues to confuse me now.

On what level is one allowed to confront a family member with the news that not only are they driving everyone around them crazy, in a very literal sense they might be driving themselves crazy, too?!!! Well, I don't have an obvious answer to that -- and when it's progressed too far, it's in many cases too late!

Perhaps that's why I'm sharing this with you right now. I don't have to do this. I no longer get paid to write these things. But maybe, just maybe, if this message is put out there well enough and often enough by people who do care the idea will get across. Having a happy healthy attitude makes for a better life. Cultivate yours. Help your friends cultivate theirs. And do what you can in your family of origin, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The nun study is so interesting. There is documentary we just saw on DVD that might be of interest to you - on how the creative arts are helping Alzheimer's patients - read about it in Alzheimer's :weekly