by Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron, a Family Memoir of Dementia
It was the weekend of our family reunion and almost everyone was gathered together at my parent’s condo to celebrate a milestone. Our patriarch, my dad, was turning 90. When the front doorbell rang, Mom opened the door, took one look at her oldest granddaughter and asked in a perplexed tone of voice, “Who are you?” After a moment of silence, we all laughed a little uncomfortably, but brushed it off, rationalizing the comment as a manifestation of Mom’s stress in caring for Dad, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was not mentioned again.
Our family continued to somehow normalize or overlook the ever-increasing signs that something was not quite right with Mom’s behavior. Another two years passed before she finally agreed to be evaluated by her health care provider, around the same time Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia. Although by this time our family wasn’t completely surprised by Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we were alarmed to hear she was already considered to be in the “moderate” stage of the disease. Sadly, this scenario is not untypical.
Studies tell us that the delay in diagnosis can sometimes be attributed to the family’s own denial in not wanting to face the fact that something is wrong. In retrospect, this probably applied to our family. Sometimes a fear of diagnosis can result in reluctance on the part of the affected person to agree to an evaluation, particularly if it’s an adult child prodding an intractable parent. Healthcare costs may also be a factor in avoiding an assessment by a qualified health care provider (HCP). The oft-perceived stigma associated with a potential diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s can be a barrier to evaluation for the entire family.
National Memory Screening Week
In an effort to promote the importance of early detection of memory problems, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) has launched the first annual National Memory Screening week, scheduled for November 1-7. The AFA is working in conjunction with community organizations to provide free, confidential memory screenings for people that have concerns about their memories, and when necessary, encourage follow-up exams by a qualified HCP. These people will also be directed to the appropriate social services and community resources in their area. The AFA is working toward eliminating the stigma and fears associated with dementia, and providing education for the public about memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, and how to age successfully. The AFA also hopes to alleviate fears for the people who do participate in the memory screening, but do not show a concerning memory problem.
Who should consider having a memory screening?
• Anyone who is concerned about memory loss or experiencing any of the warning signs of dementia.
• Anyone who feels they’re at risk because of a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
• Anyone who wants a baseline evaluation of their memory for future comparisons, even though they don’t have a current concern.
If you or a loved one answer “yes” to any of the following questions provided by the AFA, it may be prudent to participate in the free memory screening.
• Are you becoming more forgetful?
• Do you have any trouble concentrating?
• Do you have difficulty when performing familiar tasks?
• Do you have trouble recalling names or words during conversation?
• Do you sometimes forget where you’re going or where you are?
• Have friends or family tell you that you’re saying the same thing over and over or repeating questions?
• Do you often misplace things?
• Have you become lost when driving to a familiar place or walking in your neighborhood?
•Have your family or friends told you they’ve noticed changes in your behavior, moods, personality, or desire to engage socially?
Participating sites and information about the screening (date, time) are listed on www.nationalmemoryscreening.org.
For more info:
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The scene described in the opening paragraph of this blog post is based on an excerpt from my memoir, Somebody Stole My Iron, which details the daily challenges, turbulent emotions, and the many painful decisions involved in caring for my parents. Laced with humor and pathos, reviewers describe my book as “brave,” “honest,” “raw,” “unvarnished,” as well as a “must-read for every Alzheimer's/dementia patient's family.” I wrote this story to offer hope to others whose lives have been intimately affected by this dreadful disease, to reassure them that they’re not alone. To read an excerpt please visit my Amazon page.