Most people know that as people age they become at greater risk for a number of health issues including those dealing with mental health and memory. While most people are aware of problems like Alzheimer’s or dementia, anosognosia is one condition that does not get talked about often. Anosognosia is a condition in which the patient has trouble remembering that they have an mental health problem, it is especially prevalent among those who are suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s.
The condition was first described by French neurologist Joseph Babinski in 1914. The National Alliance of Mental Illness characterizes Anosognosia as a neurological condition where someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or are unable to perceive or understand their condition accurately. The condition is commonly associated with other mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Despite the condition, self-awareness can vary over time and are actually typical with this issue. Some people who have family members or friend struggling with anosognosia may think their loved one is dealing with shock or denial, it is actually different and more complex. Denial is being aware of a fact but refusing to accept it, anosognosia is damage to the brain that makes it impossible for the person to be aware of the fact.
It can affect a patient’s awareness involving deficits of judgement, emotions, memory, language, motor ability and more. Someone experiencing anosognosia that is affecting short-term memory can forget to bathe, miss scheduled appoints or forget they are cooking.
How Anosognosia Occurs
You go through changes all throughout your life -- career changes, social life changes, physical changes. While following these changes your brain takes them into account so that your perception of yourself adjusts. That scar on your body quickly became a part of who you are and it doesn’t even stand out anymore. However, damage to the frontal lobe can impair this ability which can lead to problems with your ability to take in and understand new information about yourself.
A lot of times, anosognosia is a side effect of another injury or illness involving the brain. Anosognosia can occur after acute brain injuries like stroke, traumatic brain injury and other conditions that damage the brain. Anosognosia occurs in 10 to 18 percent of stroke patients, 50 percent of schizophrenia patients, 40 percent of patients with bipolar disorder and 81 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have some form of anosognosia.
It is recommended that you see a doctor or specialist if you believe your loved one is suffering from some type of dementia or anosognosia condition related to memory. You should especially seek a doctor out if your loved one is easily admitting to even small amounts of memory loss, are not aware of any impairment of memory, or are angrily insisting that there is no memory problem.
If your family member or friend is diagnosed with anosognosia, it is recommended that they see a psychiatrist or mental health expert.
Tips for Dealing with Anosognosia
If a family member or friend is struggling with anosognosia, it may be a difficult process for dealing with your loved one. There are a few things that you can do to make the issue easier on yourself.
Seek Professional Help
If the anosognosia symptoms begin interfering with day-to-day activities, it may be beneficial to find others to help with the problem. Speaking with and working with doctors, friends, caregivers, assisted living and memory care staff may be the best option.
Avoid Correcting Them
Those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia do not fully understand or are not fully aware of what is going on due to the problem of anosognosia. Therefore, because they are experiencing a slightly different reality, it may cause confusion, anxiety, or fear if you were to force them into understanding that their reality is different than others. Sometimes it is better to just go along with what they are saying.
If your family member or loved one is going through a moment of confusion, fear, or anger it may be hard to deal with them. However, remaining calm during this time and not raising your voice or getting angry yourself could help defuse a situation rather than escalate it. It is important to remember in these moments that your loved one does not have control over the condition they are dealing with.
Every day is different. Some will definitely be more difficult than others. But, understanding that they are being forgetful on purpose and that it is part of their condition is absolutely necessary. Being supportive of a loved one that is going through this difficult time will help them get through it easier and may end up being easier on you in the long run.
As mentioned before, it is normal for someone going through dementia and anosognosia to deal with varying levels awareness. Trying to anticipate the fluctuations in the levels that they experiencing ahead of time could be helpful in dealing with your loved ones behavior. Just being aware that these fluctuations exist is also important as it will help you remain calm when they do occur.
Dealing with mental health conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia and the issues that come with that like anosognosia, sun-downing, and aggression can be hard to handle. But no matter where you are in life, Landmark Senior Living is here to make the process of growing older less worrisome and stressful. Landmark has been in the business of helping seniors citizens for more than 30 years - our mission is to provide the best care in thriving communities that foster meaningful relationships for the rest of your life. If you’re looking into an assisted living situation for you or a loved on, visit Landmark Senior Living.