Continuing our clinical psychology look at dementia, I want to talk about this fascinating topic that no one thinks about. I certainly didn’t. It’s the topic of dementia isn’t a diagnosis and if we stop there, then the dementia sufferer cannot get the professional help they need. And what makes this really interesting is how this relates to other areas of psychology too. You don’t want to miss this!
This episode has been sponsored by Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology Third Edition. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Why Dementia Isn’t A Diagnosis?
On past dementia-focused podcast episodes, we’ve spoken about the different types of dementia and how they all differ. Each one has its own causes, symptoms and possible treatment options to some extent. As well as dementia is just an umbrella term for a whole range of mental health conditions.
Therefore, if anyone just says someone has dementia then this can be extremely dangerous. As it can stop them from getting professional help and seeking a real diagnosis to find out what condition they have exactly.
This is even more important when we realise that several conditions copy the symptoms of dementia and have similar impacts on behaviour. Hence why this is of interest to psychology.
Furthermore, not only does it allow people to understand the type of dementia they have. But it allows us all to understand what aspects of our cognition and behaviour are likely to be affected first and those likely to be affected later.
So by getting a specific diagnosis, it allows us to plan more effectively with treatment and support, but expectations too.
Another way to think about this is like saying someone has a headache. Due to headaches can be caused by an entire range of things, like stress and migraines. As well as they can be caused by a range of diseases which can be much more serious, like brain tumours and strokes.
This is why is it critical to always get a professional diagnosis.
Additionally, if we apply this to clinical psychology more generally, this is why diagnosis is important for all mental health conditions. For example, people could believe a child is awful, badly behaved and anti-social but they might have autism. And without the diagnosis we wouldn’t know and we wouldn’t know how to get access to the brilliant range of support and interventions that could be used to help the child cope with everyday life and thrive.
Importance of Checking and Reversible Causes of Dementia:
Another reason to check for dementia and get a real diagnosis is because it is critical to check for reversible causes of dementia. This is another great reason why I love learning about dementia because I had no idea dementia had reversible causes, meaning the dementia can be reversed.
Some reversible causes of dementia include:
· A B12 deficiency
· Chronic infection like in Lyme disease.
All these conditions and causes can be easily detected by blood tests so after a diagnosis has been reached, these tests can be conducted and hopefully if the causes are reversible. Then a treatment programme can be arranged and the dementia can be gone.
In addition, we’ll look at this potentially reversible cause of dementia in another episode, but depression is another cause to bear in mind.
Also by using structural brain imaging, doctors can identify subdural hematomas (accumulation of blood between the skull and the brain) and other rather horrific sounding abnormalities that need to be removed to relieve brain pressure or help prevent strokes.
Overall, it’s important to get a real dementia diagnosis so people can understand the type of dementia they have so treatment options can be developed. Even if it is sadly just options to slow down the dementia. As well as it gives people a chance to see if their dementia is reversible. (I really wish my Great-uncle had that option)
More On Treatment For Dementia:
Throughout the podcast episode, I’ve hinted (heavily!) at the main reason why getting the right diagnosis is important is for treatment options. Since it is only with the right diagnosis can the sufferer get the correct treatment for them.
· Cholinesterase inhibitors can improve patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies and vascular dementia.
· Stroke Workup and treatment is necessary for vascular dementia and it usually uses aspirin or other blood thinners.
· Surgical Evaluation and possible intervention is needed for people with normal pressure hydrocephalus (a build-up of spinal fluid inside the brain) or subdural hematoma.
· Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (very famous in clinical psychology!) are used as the first line of defence (and first therapy) for treating frontotemporal dementia.
Then of course, don’t forget about medical trials or studies looking at new treatments of dementia. None of this is official advice, but there are some great studies going on for dementia, my placement supervisor is always working on one (I think). Therefore, if you and the dementia sufferer are interested in that sort of stuff, go for it! Explore the area and you never ever you might have helped dementia science take another step forward!
Why Does This Apply To Psychology Students and Professionals? Conclusion:
I know this podcast is made up mainly of amazing psychology students and psychology professionals and this is for whom I always try to create my content for. But I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest for wondering why I’m telling you about the importance of diagnosis, since it is a fundamental principle in clinical psychology.
But I did this episode for two main reasons. Reasons that might not be clear to us, but they are critical for our clients and the people we serve.
Firstly, don’t give our clients a general diagnosis like dementia. Because at the end of the day, that general diagnosis is useless to them, give them the full details so they can truly understand what is happening to them, and maybe they can start to do something about it.
Of course, this doesn’t always apply, but you get the idea. As well as it will help them to understand why psychotherapy or another course of action is needed.
Secondly, deepen our understanding. I still love clinical psychology because there is always something more to learn, and for all of us deepening our understanding and learning about where people are coming from is critical.
By learning why dementia isn’t a good diagnosis, we can inform our own practices and learn how to treat our current or future clients better. And learning more about clinical psychology never hurts, does it?
Overall, dementia is a great topic that has as many as facets as other mental health conditions, so it is important to focus on from time to time. But remember the most important takeaway from this episode is don’t settle for a dementia diagnosis.
I really hope you enjoyed this clinical psychology episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology Third Edition. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Clinical Psychology Reference:
Budson, A. E., & O'Connor, M. K. (2017). Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory: What's Normal, What's Not, and what to Do about it. Oxford University Press.
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