Living in the Age of Instant (Non)Medical Diagnoses
In the millennium, televised medicine is all the rage. Colonoscopies are performed before a live, gasping audience, staged for national television. Patients are being encouraged to second-guess our physicians. Everyone, it seems, is a wannabe physician.
The old, “everyone wants to be a comedian” should be updated in the millennium to: “Everyone is an unlicensed medical diagnostician.”
Even in the days of “Dr. Ben Casey’s” fictional character on television, tv “medicine” realistically took longer than today’s “Hollywood-style” camera-ready medical practice. Plastic surgery? No problem! Aging? “Fuhgged-about-it,” as my New York City Italian friends love to say.
Our millennial medical madness trend is evident to me in a number of areas, including Alzheimer’s and dementia lay-diagnoses. Lost your keys? Alzheimer’s! Tired and at a loss for words? Dementia! “Ask your doctor about Aricept” for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease “symptoms,” is the overarching message of one long-running millennial tv commercial. Piece of cake diagnoses and medical treatment await you and me, should we be so naïvely inclined.
In my younger years, I believe we called such thinking hypochondria. Back then, no reasonable person ever dared mention or conjure up chronic diseases, lest the individual were to tempt the universe to rain down illness in one’s life. Back then, hypochondriac thinking was frowned upon, or laughed out of town. In the millennium, we encourage and celebrate hypochondriac tendencies, more so about perceived or imagined Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms. Some folks see Alzheimer’s at every turn – more so in the lives of others!
Dr. Sivak’s blog, Differences Between Delirium, Depression, Dementia, Delusions, Alzheimer’s, is a good read if any layperson feels a sudden urge to non-medically diagnose another individual’s “symptoms” as Alzheimer’s and/or dementia.
Cultural Perspectives on Alzheimer’s
I am part of the (Baby Boomer) generation that grew up accepting the generic use of the word “senility.” Back then, the word “senility” was used regularly by adults to define perceived “symptoms” of aging in some elders who displayed episodic or persistent memory loss, wandering behaviors, and, mental confusion such as currently associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Oddly, although we were less medically enlightened in the 1960’s and 1970’s than we are today, many “senile” elders were not socially hidden by their families. Many families with “senile” elders revered their elders and taught their boomer offspring to do the same.
One of my childhood friend’s grandfather was “senile.” “Gramps” once walked half-mile, got on a bus, and wandered off – albeit in a kinder, gentler world. An entire community was on the lookout for “Gramps.”
“Gramps” was given a ride back home near dusk, when someone spotted him at the end of the bus line, confused, in a city more than 15 miles away. When “Gramps” was safely back at home, my friends and I asked him where he’d been. We listened to his sharing and laughed when he laughed. “Gramps” was physically fit, cheerful, otherwise seemed to be in good health, albeit cognitively lost quite often. Gramps died in his 90’s, in his adult daughter’s home, surrounded by his grandchildren, neighbors who’d looked out for him, and, other loved ones.
Medical Advances in Alzheimer’s Treatment and the Great Social Divide
Social progress is a funny thing. Are individuals who have been medically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the millennium, more, or less, socially visible than those in Gramps’ generation? You decide.
How far have we come in our public perceptions of Alzheimer’s?
· Public education and awareness may be at all-time highs, yet, there are some communities that have yet to realize that Alzheimer’s disease is fatal. Might some individuals be in social denial?
· Whether due to social over-simplification of symptoms or over-use of medical terminology by laypersons, there is some tunnel-vision in recognizing possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related brain diseases. Some individuals pounce at “senior moments” of lost keys or forgetting the day of the week as “evidence” of Alzheimer’s or dementia, while missing the medical forest for the laypersons’ trees.
· Some may view the lack of a cure for Alzheimer’s as the final word. “Senility” happens, and there is no cure, so why bother, may be the prevailing thought for some individuals.
Regardless of how far we may have come, some individuals may still be circling the wagons. Dr. Sivak’s blog says it all for me: “Lots of D’s to differentiate.” While we’re at the letter d, please talk to your doctor. This is not your grandfather’s generation. It’s the millennium.
There are medical treatments that have been proven to slow the progress of cognitive decline. Aren’t you the least bit interested in hearing?