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Keeping Dementia at Bay

I used to dismiss this subject out of hand, reasoning I was too young to worry about it. Dementia always fell into the same basket as senility - a ghost that sneaks up as you approach old age. The case of my Aunt seemed to confirm this. My understanding was that she had reached a stage in life which had become too complex and hard to bear, so her mind transported her to a time of simplicity and comfort. She regressed to those halcyon days of youth, of caring parents and no responsibilities; and she relived her childhood right up to the point where, in her estimation, the shine had started to wear off. Then, not wishing to go through the trials of growing up again, she simply hopped and skipped back a few years to replay the happier memories, over and over. They said she had Dementia, a medical term which conjures visions of anguish and suffering. That may well be for friends and relatives who shudder at the thought of slowly losing someone they care about; but for patients like my Aunt, they would seem to reside in a warm bubble guaranteed to keep them safe for the rest of their days. Having rationalised it in this way, I had no fears of being overwhelmed by a condition which isn't really so bad and eventually comes to us all.

That was what I used to think. Recently, however, I am seriously doubting my original philosophy. For a start, not everyone is a candidate. Many ageing citizens, even those in their nineties, are still as bright as a new penny and display few signs of diminished mental capacity. Coming from different walks of life and backgrounds, they would seem to be the lucky winners in life's lottery. But is it merely down to good fortune? Having met some of them, I am convinced there is a common denominator - they all possess the desire and ability to continue doing what they have always done; or make every effort to embrace and adopt new ideas when the old ones are no longer practical. In effect, for them it isn't over till it's over; and even when everyone else is sure they are past their use-by date, they'll be looking for fresh challenges to meet.

There would have to be certain medical conditions that can trigger the onset of Dementia; but in many cases I am sure the battle is still not lost and progress of the ailment can be delayed. There are people, however, who haven't been diagnosed, yet are still at risk because they are either in ignorance of the possibility, or just refuse to accept Dementia is knocking at their door. Maybe that observation sounds harsh, but I think it needs to be. It is definitely not uncalled for. Although I've met people who are determined never to give up, I also know of those who come to accept the inevitable without question. As a result, they often refuse to acknowledge that they can do something positive to help improve their minds and, in turn, their lifestyles.

There's obviously no point in me talking to them here because they won't listen. My message is for their friends and families who recognise the symptoms and are prepared to help them in spite of their reluctance to admit they need any. What are those symptoms? They are actually conspicuous by their absence, mannerisms and actions that used to be prevalent, but of late seem to be fading. Like the sparkle in the eyes at the dawn of a new day and what it might hold; or a lack of enthusiasm when oft-discussed plans for the future are brought up. They just seem to have lost interest in things they were keen on before. You may be wondering what has caused this apparent dissatisfaction with life in general. Have they recently retired from full-time work? Have they developed a particular medical condition that prevents them from following a favoured occupation or pastime? Most importantly, does their memory seem to be affected to the extent that they are unable to remember how to perform tasks they have been doing all their lives? Admittedly not always, but frequently these small but significant changes are the beginnings of Dementia; and if something isn't done to intervene, this unfortunate person will eventually be seeing friends and loved ones as strangers, only recognising them as memories of the way they were in bygone days!

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