As a writer, words are important to me. Consequently, I will often invest a lot of time searching the dictionary, thesaurus and Google, trying to find the very best, most accurate, articulate, and precise word to describe an emotion, thought, event, or person.
Seven years ago when I was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, I was uncertain what the diagnosis meant. I had never heard of it, but I remember feeling relieved by the word ‘mild,’ as well as grateful I hadn’t been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
For three years prior I had experienced increasing forgetfulness, misplaced items, missed appointments, and difficultly recalling names of even my closest friends. When my family urged me to make an appointment at Mayo Clinic, I resisted and accused them of overreacting.
But in reality, I knew something was wrong, and I did eventually go to the clinic. I immediately looked up my diagnosis when I got home. Mayo’s definition read: “Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the 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.”
I was surprised at the wording, which sounded more harsh, ominous and foreboding than I expected, given the first word of the diagnosis was “mild.” I felt troubled by the seeming inevitability of MCI’s progression to Alzheimers and dementia, even though I was reassured by my doctors that no one can accurately predict when or if MCI will progress there. The reference of decline in “cognitive skills” didn’t feel accurate for me then or even now. My condition has always rested on my declining memory, while my language, judgment and thinking skills are still strong. I’m still reading, writing, attending lectures, conversing with friends, completing puzzles and crosswords. I can be trusted to safely stay home alone, and my judgement and logic are still intact.
I often describe the diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment as a medical catchphrase; an effort by the medical community to use a single label for the complicated and complex manifestations of memory and cognitive decline.
Because words matter to me, I rarely use the term Mild Cognitive Impairment when I refer to my own condition—not because I’m ashamed or deny I have memory loss, but because I think Mild Cognitive Impairment is a term few laypeople are familiar with, and it can sound far more foreboding and ominous than necessary.
But my memory is not good. I have difficulty following directions, tracking a conversation, and I often ask the same question multiple times, and this reality often warrants an explanation when communicating with someone who doesn’t know me well. When this happens and I need to request information in writing, I choose to instead say, “I have memory loss.”