For the last several months I have facilitated a support group, “Let’s Talk About It”. Held from 10:30-11:30 a.m. the second Wednesday of the month at Humboldt General Hospital, this hour provides an opportunity to talk, ask questions, and share feelings and emotions. Sometimes 5 people attend; at other times I am there alone. 

It has not grown as I have hoped, but maybe I must seek another approach to bring this valuable service into view.

Admitting that there is cognitive decline in ourselves or in someone we love is difficult. To pretend daily living is not a trial full of bumps is far simpler than acknowledging an ugly truth, that mental state is not stable, has become a worry, and perhaps may even present danger.

I understand the fear of pulling out a dark secret to place it out in the open for others to assess and evaluate. I may shake at the thought of rough times ahead, but I quake at the vulnerability I expose myself to by divulging a distressful possibility. I also realize that holding hard facts close to my heart does little to find a solution. What can I do to encourage others to come forward to speak and seek?

First, there must be trust. Those who know me probably acknowledge that I am worthy of trust. I’m a good listener, I have some unique background knowledge on Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and I am aware of many resources for individuals and families to determine the severity of forgetfulness, the necessary changes that must be made, and the best services available. 

For those who do not know me, please come meet me and then after we chat you can decide if I am one with whom you feel open to extend our conversation. My responsibility is not to tell you what to do, or even to advise, but to listen – listen deeply to your thoughts and worries. Then we can proceed together to find potential answers to your concerns.

Vulnerability, according to researcher Dr. Brene Brown, is at the center of creativity, innovation, authenticity, and accountability. 

Although this is a broad spectrum of characteristics, the multi-faceted parts of vulnerability help us in piecing together our own feelings of defenselessness, our inability to step and stand up because we fear repercussions, false hope, or a sense of inadequacy. 

Facing the dilemmas of Alzheimer’s and other dementias requires functioning within all four of these facets.

Creativity – cognitive decline must be viewed creatively. Do problems stem from stress, an imbalance in medication, an infection, a traumatic event? Is the change sudden or did it progress over time? Are the mood swings minimal or drastic? Is there a family history of dementia or other underlying causes such as brain injury? Gathering the puzzle parts and sorting them help create an overall picture leading to…

Innovation. Innovation as in, “What do we do next?” You may want to start with the family physician. Check on medications and other health issues. 

Try to ferret out all of the possibilities for confusion and forgetfulness. If medication for the dementia is a strong recommendation, I suggest a quick exit and then schedule an appointment with a trained neurologist or gerontologist. 

Medications currently on the market mask behaviors such as aggressiveness and depression but they do nothing to solve the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease.

A thorough neurological evaluation can direct you toward authentic choices, choices that match the needs of your loved one and not the quick fix of a prescription. In Nevada we have a wonderful option – the Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

A doctor’s “prescription” permits a full, 3-4 hour overall health and neurological exam at no expense to the patient. This includes rich conversations as to appropriate decisions for the best life possible regardless of cognitive outcomes.

This authenticity brings action and holds us accountable. We can no longer deny impairment and so must make wise decisions for long-term health care. 

We also have the positive possibility that the strange behaviors are simply symptoms of exhaustion, dehydration, or a UT infection. We are still held accountable for taking good care of ourselves, but it is not the dramatic and life-changing situation of Alzheimer’s disease.

I feel good sharing this information with you — I know the more I learn, the better I feel and the more I recognize that I must continue to expand my information and experience banks.

Please call me, visit our Age- and Dementia-Friendly website or join me for our next meeting.