Even though this article focuses on Ireland, it’s no less true in the United States. As with mental illness, there is a lot of stigma around dementia. We aren’t embarrassed when we have a broken limb or a malfunctioning kidney, but everything changes when the brain is involved. Patients may not want to admit that their mind is not as strong as it once was and the problem is further compounded by poorly trained doctors and medical staff. And that’s sad, because the best we can do for dementia right now is slow the progression and the earlier therapy starts, the better.
My mom went to the doctor for over year telling him there was something wrong with her memory and he kept blowing her off, telling her she was just getting older and not to worry about it. Then, when we finally did find a doctor, who would listen, she was misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the diagnosis was delivered as, “She has Alzheimer’s. Here, fill out an advance directive, because she’ll eventually forget to swallow and starve to death and you’ll be dealing with feeding tubes. Come back in six months.” That’s it.
The only “education” provided was the doctor trying to pressure my mom, who didn’t want to, into refusing life saving measures. And this was at Kaiser Permanente, a huge HMO that has vast resources and no excuse for properly training its staff with not only knowledge, but compassion, neither of which were exhibited in my mom’s diagnosis.
There is simply no excuse.
As we’ve walked through the medical system in subsequent years, we’ve encountered some really lovely medical professionals and also several who had no idea how to interact with a dementia patient. Some ignore her completely like she’s not there, not a person. Some don’t seem to grok at all that she has dementia and isn’t always going to be a reliable source of information. Some just give up on scans, x-rays, exams, when she has a problem sitting still for them. Because, hey, she’s dying anyway, what does it matter, right?
Well, it matters to me and to millions of other people who are fighting dementia or caring for a loved one with it.
And it should matter to you too.
One in three seniors will die with dementia and dementia kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
I guarantee you, it WILL affect you or someone you love. Educate yourself. Keep an eye on your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to keep pushing, if you think something is wrong and no one is listening to you. Your life or that of a loved on may depend on it.