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A Bit About Dementia & What It Is Not

Dementia is a word, which tends to strike fear in our hearts. I will be the first to admit that I used to see dementia in the same light as most other people; but, as I began to explore visual perceptual performance, I began to see that there were some apparent differences between those who did have an untreatable dementia most other people with age related cognitive issues. The actual numbers of people with untreatable cognitive deficits are very, very small. Most people have an entirely treatable condition called a visual perceptual deficit.

As a consequence of this, the first step, for anyone seeking a diagnosis, is to see a healthcare professional who actually knows what they are talking about. There is little value in being told you have dementia, when the person making such a diagnosis has no background in the active treatment of cognitive deficits.

I have long said that no one should be making any categorical statements around cognitive performance, if they do not have the experience in the hands on treatment of cognitive disorders. The reality is that most of the people diagnosing these conditions do not have such experience. Added to this is an incredibly superficial perspective most such conditions are viewed from, with the outcome being that everyone with a cognitive issue tends to be lumped together under the same inaccurate and inappropriate label.

I am not going to go into the intricacies of what determines someone has a visual perceptual deficit, as opposed to a dementia, here, but I will outline some things you can do, which will help maintain, or can even improve upon cognitive performance.

1.    In your daily life, always complete one task before moving on to another. Functionally, jumping around from one thing to another only ever leads to a chaotic mode of performing in the world. I see this mode of operation all the time in people who do have visual perceptual deficits and it is a habit that is definitely not useful.

2.    Take your time. I often find that people who are struggling a little, rush a lot. Rushing is also something I see in elite athletes and it quickly becomes obvious that a lot of effort is going into getting nowhere. Relax and allow yourself to move through each and every task and be present when you are doing this.

3.    Indeed, be present and focus on what you are doing. So much of diminished cognitive performance can be related to bad habits. One of the consequences of not paying attention is that parts of the task are overlooked or skipped over, leading to chaotic task performance.

4.    If you have noticed that your cognitive performance is less than what it used to be, take a look at how confident you feel, and consider how anxious you find yourself becoming, in situations you would normally have handled with ease in the past. One of the first things I typically recommend, for anyone who is experiencing a decline in cognitive performance is that they see their GP and get put on an anti-depressant. Depression is an insidious condition, where our life can become steadily eroded away and, before we know it, we are no longer going out and living the life we once were. Anxiety is often a feature of depression and stabilising someone’s mood level often leaves them feeling better able to deal with life, and also allows them to continue to go out into the world and engage. This will have an immediate and positive impact on cognitive performance. One thing I know is that our psychological and emotional state can and does have tremendous impact on our cognitive function.

5.    Write things down. I often recommend using a large daily diary. It’s much better than the wall calendar, because it requires us to physically engage with it on a level that a calendar will never require. One of the things about getting older is that we care less about the little things. Because of this we are likely to forget them a lot easier, so write them down.

Overall, I continue to advise people not to despair, most loss of cognitive function is entirely treatable, and in many, many situations it fully resolves with the appropriate therapy. Just don't buy into all the hype in the media about dementia, because most of what is said about it is said by people who do not understand where our function arises from. In my world, looking at the brain and how it lights up under fancy scanners just doesn't cut it, and will never provide the answers the world is hungry for.

Natoya Rose    
Occupational Therapist

If you would like to talk with me about your circumstances, you can make an appointment to do so online. These consultations take place via Skype, meaning that the call is free and that it doesn't matter where in the world you are, you can not only talk with me, you can also work with me

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