Word of the Day: Anosognosia

In the first few weeks after I stepped into the caregiver role for my dad, I was overwhelmed, not because I didn’t have answers, but because I didn’t understand the questions!

Then, one day, I realized with delight that I was speaking “dementia.” I was using terms and phrases comfortably that, only a short time ago, were completely foreign.

If you’re new to the world of dementia, hang in there. You’ll be speaking like a native in no time!  ;->

Here’s one of my favorite new words: anosognosia. It’s particularly useful when talking about my dad.

You see, according to my dad, there is nothing wrong with him. I’ve heard people say he is “in denial,” but that implies that he knows there’s a problem and chooses to ignore it. I’m convinced that Dad really and truly doesn’t recognize that anything’s wrong.

This seems odd, but I’ve found out it’s not uncommon, and (hallelujah!) there’s a word for it.

Anosognosia – the lack of awareness of illness or symptoms.

Its Greek roots are “an-” or “a-” (not, or without), “nosos” (disease), “gnosis” (knowledge).

Apparently anosognosia is fairly common in people with dementia. It can be caused by brain injury or various neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

The serious problem with anosognosia is that a person who doesn’t recognize that he has a problem will not accommodate for it. For example, someone who does not believe he is ill will not take his medicine. Someone who does not realize his leg has been amputated will attempt to walk – and will fall. It’s rather amazing.

And frustrating.

Trying to convince a someone with anosognosia that there is a problem that needs to be addressed  . . . Well, from my experience, it falls under the category of “banging your head against a wall.”

If anosognosia is part of your reality, I’m afraid all I can offer you at this point  is “good luck.” Let me know if you figure something out. In the meantime, enjoy the word; it may bring you comfort.

My dad, brother and I at Bear Valley Ski Resort – approximately 1975.


(By the way, my information about anosognosia comes from the Alzheimer’s Association, National Alliance of Mental Illness, a couple of medical dictionaries, and, of course, Wikipedia).


One response to “Word of the Day: Anosognosia

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