You can’t have failed to have noticed that I have made some major changes to my website and myself. I feel I am closing a chapter in my life.
Firstly, I have am in transition from being married to being single. It is not appropriate for me to talk about that, only how I am redefining my life now. Hence the name change, reverting to my maiden name. ‘Gill Taylor Muses’ also introduced a new chapter in my life for me.
When I was given the diagnosis of ‘possible Alzheimer’s’ my life was turned inside out, upside down. It felt like there was nothing left for me to plan for, to look forward to, that my mental demise would quickly overtake my life. So I began making some wonderful friends across the world who also had been given dementia diagnoses. Instead of just having support, they have inspired me, they have all worked tirelessly to show how anyone can live well with dementia, that education is needed world wide to enable everyone who has dementia can lead a better and indeed in many cases a productive life before the end stages. They work to show people how to understand how dementia affects people, and how to communicate effectively. I often hear people recalling their experiences of trying to talk or understand someone in the later stages of dementia who is seemingly talking nonsense and leaving everyone confused and frustrated. I have learnt, however, how effective understanding and communication can make the experience better for both sides. It is simple really, all you have to do is learn about dementia and how it affects the brain, nothing technical just relating the personality of the person with dementia with their confusion. Random sentences such as ‘I want to go home’ can simply mean “I am confused and am not sure what is happening, please reassure me”. So a simple reassurance that a familiar person or place is around them, telling them you are they and everything is okay can help. No need to talk about, where home is or isn’t. That is a loose example that may not fit every situation but knowing the who the person was can help in how you talk to them. My own mother never lost her sense of humour with her vascular dementia right up till the end. So to bring humour into her life when we were talking was a really important way to make her feel safe and comfortable.
I digress. I got out my diagnosis letters and re-read them. At the time when you receive these letters all you can see is the word ALZHEIMER’S or DEMENTIA jumping out at you. I was looking at it, and thinking about all the questions that were asked over various appointments and tests. Q: “How long have you notice problems with your memory” – this is a simple question isn’t it. Answer: Always. Q: “Yes but more recently how long has it been getting worse”. A: Well, I have noticed it more in the past couple of years. Actually my daughter said to me “Mum, your memory is rubbish you should go and see about it”.
Why did I answer like that? They were pushing me to give then a date, a time, but it has always been a problem. I remember at University, I was 40 years old and felt so excited to be given the opportunity to study but worrying that I would find it hard to remember any of the information that I had to learn. See, that’s another thing I have always had a problem learning new information. I studied Combine Science; Psychology which included how we learn new information, in fact my final year dissertation was titled Evaluation of Configural and Elemental Models of Associative Learning Using Visual Lexical Stimulus – in simple terms that means looking at two theoretical models of how stimulus enables us to learn something new, using two categories of insects and their parts, and the cognitive process of learning which belonged to which.
For me it was the most challenging of studies because it was complex, however it gave me a good understanding of associative learning. This does have a bearing on my diagnosis and my understanding of my own cognitive difficulties which makes up the reasoning behind my diagnosis.
My experience at University was such that I would have to read, and re-read the same things over and over. Make notes and then revise those notes because I would not remember anything in them. Lectures were a nightmare because I could not remember what was said in any detail whatsoever, my notes were a mess lacking in any cohesive form and made no sense once I had left the lecture theatre. Short of writing down verbatim what was being said I had no chance of remembering details. The worst part was the lack of any memory of the substance of many of my lectures. I knew I had a real problem but never thought to ever question it with anyone. Psychology is a long list of theoretical models by Psychologists and dates that have to be remembered in the correct order. Arrrggghhhhh……..yes this was a nightmare for me but I would learn them by rote learning, and by making up ridiculous sentences with the initials of their first name.
I also studied History of Science, and with such a range of subjects, facts and figures I am surprised I managed to remember anything. One thing I have always been good at is using my imagination and lateral thinking. A learned skill from childhood when your memory is extremely poor. During my finals, I had an exam whereby the questions arose of things that none of us had focussed on during revision and I wrote a complete essay using my understanding of the progression of science, and one paragraph I had read in a book on Alexander Von Humbolt and weather systems.
Following University I worked in IT and was fortunate enough to have a wonderful friend (thank you Darren) who would continually give me the technical instructions that somehow I could never manage to learn. I wrote everything down, every single detail of instructions, and even then managed not to understand them. And when I couldn’t remember something that I had been doing day in and day out, Darren would be the one who would tell me, yet again. He did say on more than one occasion that he had already gone through a procedure with me, but thankfully always told me again. This enabled me to be effective in the job I had.
Finally, as I was getting older, my memory problems was beginning to be more apparent. The most apparent thing was that, not that I was forgetting, but I had no memory of events that day or previously. Notes I had made seemed alien to me having no knowledge of writing them, and of course the information they contained I couldn’t remember.
So….was this new or was this something that has got worse as I have got older? Who can say after 60 years of age that they have not wandered into a room and forgotten why they are there? Or forgotten what they are talking about midway? Or meant to do something important but managed to forget remembering after it is too late?
Back to my diagnosis. I had a brain scan, the scan shows perfusion (reduced blood flow) in several areas of my brain. Medial/parietal lobes, more so on the right, and an underdeveloped frontal lobe, but no perfusion there. The underdeveloped frontal lobe is attributed to possible brain damage due to being dropped on my head as a baby (I asked = no), or repeated blows to the head throughout childhood from my mother. I now would like to discuss with my consultant when I see whoever it is next year, my thoughts about this. I can’t possibly have had Alzheimer’s all of my life. It is written and was discussed during the appointment where I was given the diagnosis of possible Alzheimer’s that I do not have DEMENTIA. ‘Not possible’, one doctor has said to me, of course you have dementia if you have Alzheimer’s disease because it is one of the dementias. Confuses the hell out of me I can tell you!
So here I am with memory difficulties that I have had most of my life, preparing to become totally disabled through dementia, when I can no longer relate how I am to the ‘label’ of Alzheimer’s.
Is is wrong of me to say, I have always been like this and therefore know that it could be a long long time before dementia takes hold as much it will with anybody, so until then I will assume that my diagnosis is a label that cannot be proven until autopsy.
Of course I shall still be shouting loud at the ‘Empowerment Group’ for dementia meetings, because I can! I shall be a voice that can speak for those who cannot. I shall still be vehemently fighting for Dementia education for all, again because I can!
I am also getting involved in the Fibromyalgia Support group because that is what is affecting me the most these days with lots of pain.
Onwards and upwards, I feel it will be an exciting year of activities in local groups.