The diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment is often not well recognized or understood. I personally misstated its definition during the early months following my diagnosis. I would say, “I have been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment” and then add….“some would say I have early stage dementia.” I now understand I was mistaken.
Mayo Clinic defines dementia as “a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily function.”
Mayo defines Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI, as “an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has ‘slipped.’ Your family and close friends also may notice a change. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to significantly interfere with your day-to-day life and usual activities […] Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later progressing to dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.”
While I would rather not have MCI at all, having a label for my condition is far better than the anxiety and frustration that was associated with not knowing what was ‘wrong’ with me. Knowing what is happening is far better than questioning the decline in my thinking and reasoning capabilities and then trying to hide my symptoms.
Having a diagnosis, as ugly as it is, has given me and my family the courage to talk openly about my condition, to educate ourselves and to gently consider future possibilities. Being ‘outed’ has relieved me of feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Most significantly, having a diagnosis has made my husband Keith and I more conscious and intentional about how we experience our time together, physically and emotionally. We are kinder, more compassionate, and more aware of what brings us joy; in essence, we are more discerning in our choices and how we live our lives.
But of course, we are human—there are certainly times when the condition becomes challenging for both Keith and me…times when my emotions are irritable and scattered and often seem out of proportion. Times when I erupt into tears over a ‘miss’ or a forgotten detail I would have laughed off the day before. Or times when I get angry with Keith over some trivial matter, or ask the same question moments after having received an answer. Click here to read about the ways I cope with difficult emotions related to MCI.
It is in the midst of these challenging, emotional times that having a diagnosis is the most helpful. Remembering the diagnosis helps us to ‘catch ourselves:’ to step back from the momentary frustration, and pause long enough to take a deep breath and refocus on the diagnosis—not the person.