I was at the movies this weekend and an odd thing happened that took me completely by surprise.
Near the end, one of the characters announces she has "vascular dementia," a condition caused by a series of small, imperceptible strokes that damage the frontal lobe of the brain leading to impairment of speech, cognitive function and, ultimately, memory.
That was the exact thing my father had, before the Alzheimer's was identified. I started to actually cry a little -- just four small tears, two per eye, quickly checked, suppressed and wiped from the corners before hitting much actual cheek.
So it really hit me. I had never heard the condition described anywhere else before, outside my father's case. I had honestly thought it was just something the doctors ... not "made up" -- that's not the phrase I'm looking for. I guess I thought it was more words they put together to describe something specific and weird that my father suffered from. More of an explanation or guesswork than an actual diagnosis based on a known condition. So hearing it described in the exact same terms in a major mainstream movie was ... bracing. Like an affirmation of sorts.
Like I've said before, since it doesn't have nearly the "brand awareness" of Alzheimer's, neither I nor anyone I tried to explain it to had ever heard of it, so the additional, recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's suddenly gave his condition ... perhaps a "legitimacy" it didn't have before? (Wow, look who's having cognitive malfunction now ...)
Of course, now that I google it for the first time I find 337,000 hits. Why had I never done that before? All this time I was relying on what family members were telling me. I think when you're the youngest, you have that role for life. I was relying on others to take the responsibility.
Apparently it's common (the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's), progressive and, for the most part, untreatable. In a word, real. And here we were when it first came up prescribing crossword puzzles.