"I Don't Need a Diagnosis to Know She Forgets"

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"I Don't Need a Diagnosis to Know She Forgets"

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go-road-signRecently, two different friends told me two very similar stories. They each know of a family with a relative suffering from short-term memory problems. But neither family pursues a diagnosis.

I know we fear a diagnosis of dementia, like Alzheimer's or Lewy body dementia. I know fear can paralyze, keeping us in the same place, unable to move forward.

I also know the importance of a visit to a physician when a family member experiences short-term memory problems. Perhaps the short-term memory loss is caused by conditions that can be treated, like an infection or a vitamin deficiency.

It also could be dementia. It's important to know what it is and what is isn't.

I often hear individuals say, “What's the point in getting a diagnosis? There's no treatment.”

We don't have a cure. But we do have information and support, both as important as a cure. Once a family member receive a diagnosis, you can look for support for that individual. More and more organizations now offer support groups specifically for those individuals in the early stages of dementia. And, communities have created wonderful, innovative programs. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, for instance, has programs specifically for persons with dementia. In Chicago, Northwestern University's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center partnered with Lookingglass Theatre Company to create “Memory Ensemble,” a program that helps individuals in the early stages of dementia learn to live in the moment.

In addition, a family member experiencing memory loss also may be experiencing depression. With a diagnosis can come critical help for the depression.

For those family members who care for an individual with dementia, a diagnosis leads to an understanding of the disease process, which can be so helpful. The disease process doesn't make sense; if you understand that, your days of caregiving can be a little easier. With a diagnosis, family caregivers can participate in support groups; connecting with others can be so comforting.

A diagnosis also provides something you wouldn't think it would: Focus. You now can look for solutions to help. You can look for products and services that can give your family member meaningful activities. You'll know the importance of putting affairs in order and talking with your family member now about wishes about future care needs and treatments. You can make sure to document the life story before your family member's life story disappears.

It's scary to pursue a diagnosis. But, without a diagnosis, you shut out support and knowledge available to the individual and the family.

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