According to research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, unfortunately, many of these individuals also suffer from a serious problem associated with dementia called anosognosia. Simply put, anosognosia is a condition in which a person doesn’t understand or rejects a diagnosis that they have.
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, those with anosognosia will not understand their cognitive shortcomings and may try to perform tasks that are beyond their ability. For those who have parents or loved ones dealing with dementia, it is important to understand the details associated with anosognosia as there is a strong chance that your loved one will deal with it.
What Is Anosognosia?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anosognosia is a condition in which a person rejects the diagnosis of a mental illness that they face. This occurs when someone with acute mental illness may not be thinking clearly enough to consciously choose denial.
One example of this is someone who suffers a stroke that paralyzes half of their body but is still adamant that they can get up and walk normally.
When we refer to someone with anosognosia, we are referring to someone that is unaware of their own mental health condition or cannot perceive their condition accurately. Anosognosia is a common symptom when it comes to certain mental illnesses. This is a condition that change over time, self-awareness can vary. According to NAMI, at times a person can acknowledge their illness and make such knowledge impossible at other times. Insights can shift back and forth over time, and it may cause some people to think that the patient is denying their condition out of fear or stubbornness, something especially true if they are an older adult, but variations of awareness are typical of those with anosognosia.
The mental image of ourselves is constantly being updated. One example of this is when you get a cut or a sunburn, we would adjust our self-image and expect to look different when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
This updating process can be complicated. It involves organizing new information using the brain’s frontal lobe. Brain imaging studies have shown that certain diseases, such as dementia, can cause this portion of the brain to be damaged. When the frontal lobe isn’t operating at full capacity, a person may lose their ability to update his or her self image.
Without being able to update our self-image from before the illness started, perceptions will feel accurate and someone with the disease may conclude that loved ones are lying or simply making a mistake. Eventually, the problem can lead to frustrations and anger.
Anosognosia is something that affects certain mental disorders more than others. For example, according to NAMI, about 50 percent of people with schizophrenia and 40 percent of people with bipolar disorder are affected by anosognosia.
Why Anosognosia Is A Problem
For a person with anosognosia, these feelings will feel as real and convincing as other people’s ability to perceive themselves. However, these misconceptions can cause conflicts with others and can increase anxiety.
Anosognosia and Alzheimer’s Disease
When it comes to anosognosia, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia are associated with an increased prevalence of the problem. One study specifically said that anosognosia seemed to depend specifically on the dysfunction of the neural network including the frontal and temporal structures, both of which impact specific functions of anosognosia.
Researchers estimate that anosognosia affects a majority of those suffering from dementia-related problems. For example, according to a study from Penn State, researches estimate that 60 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment and 81 percent of those with Alzheimer’s disease have some form of anosognosia. Moreover, as dementia progresses, the anosognosia may become worse. The person will likely be unaware that their memory is declining and may have difficulty completing certain tasks such as fueling the car and remembering to feed or water a pet.
Anosognosia and Depression
Along with memory problems attributed to Alzheimer’s disease and anosognosia, the problems are associated with an increase in depression. A study conducted by the University of Tennessee found that the memory aspect of anosognosia correlated with severe depression.
“The effect of having some, or at least variable intact, accurate perception combined with a degree of anosognosia was considered to possibly to contribute to confusion and depression in the individual.”
Overall, there is a definite connection between anosognosia and dementia. While there is more than needs to be learned about this connection, it is important to understand that a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s may also have this coexisting problem.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, in general, is one of the most serious issues for older adults. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease leads to over 115,000 American deaths every year and is the sixth ranking cause of death in the country. With Alzheimer’s many other problems and ailments follow, for instance, anosognosia is one condition that regularly affects those with dementia. Anosognosia is a condition in which a person doesn’t understand or rejects an illness that they have. This is especially problematic for people that deal with memory problems and cognitive impairment. For those with these issues, safety should be a priority. As we age, and for those with dementia, our ability to perform day-to-day tasks becomes weaker and it can eventually get to a point in which they require the help of an assisted living facility or caregiver.
Landmark Senior Living is one facility that can help patients and residents as they deal with age-related issues. Dementia is a major problem and affects over 40 percent of adults in residential care communities. Memory care is one of the many services that Landmark can offer residents. Landmark is dedicated to providing you or your loved one with the quality care that they deserve to keep them healthy and socially stimulated during this chapter of their lives. If you are interested in learning more about what Landmark can offer your loved one, please visit our website and call to schedule a complimentary walkthrough of one of our assisted living facilities in Boston.