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What I Wished I Knew When Dementia Was Diagnosed: Anosognosia(#1)

I was recently asked this question at a Caregiver Advisory Panel and there are 3 things I wish I had known when dementia was FINALLLLLYYYY diagnosed.  The reality is that many things can cause memory issues and it’s important to seek out a doctor to help determine if there is something that could easily resolve cognitive issues. There are many times when a medication conflict or a vitamin deficiency can be a root factor.

I had two parents who were simultaneously diagnosed with different types of dementia (Mom was Vascular/then Multi-Infarct; Dad was Alzheimer’s). While my Dad seemed to understand something was wrong, and a few times over the course of being his adult family caregiver he asked me about Alzheimer’s, my Mom patently denied having a stroke which led to her initial vascular dementia diagnosis.

Anosognosia

I thought she was just being stubborn which made things pretty difficult for all of us. When I learned about anosognosia, a word of Greek origin that roughly translates to “without knowledge of disease,” things made a lot more sense to me. I had learned to adapt because my Mom would not, but then once I learned of this, I understood that she really COULD NOT adapt.  In general, the person is unaware of their condition and unable to accept it.

My Mom was not simply in denial or being stubborn, her brain could not process the fact that her thoughts didn’t reflect reality. I did recognize that she would often confabulate information. Sometimes it was hilarious and other times it was tragically sad.

Knowing this can provide some insight into how you can best help someone diagnosed with dementia. I hope it can help make your journey with your loved one a little easier. Reflected. 

 

2 comments on “What I Wished I Knew When Dementia Was Diagnosed: Anosognosia(#1)

  1. How do you know if it is anosognosia or if it is just them being their stubborn self?!

    • That is a great question. For my Mom, when she argued with the psychiatrist to challenge her diagnosis, that should have been a clue to me. She believed I made up the stroke because it left no physical reminders (luckily for her). The psychiatrist walked her through a naming exercise to show how her brain was compensating and filling in gaps of information due to the stroke. She asked my Mom to name things she pointed to, “pen”, “computer”, and then “my drink” vs saying “cup” — she couldn’t actually come up with any word for the item. My Mom was often described as “prikly” before the stroke so I get your reluctance but wonder if maybe her neurologist can help you answer this for your mom? Please keep me posted.

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