I have a new word for you today.
It’s not a real word. You won’t find it in the dictionary.
But I recently met a wonderful woman who works with people who have mild cognitive impairment, and when she introduced me to it and explained the concept behind it, I thought, “Man, this word needs to be in the lexicon of anyone with MCI.”
The word is “decatastrophize,” and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
Hi, I’m Tony Dearing of GoCogno.com, the website for people with mild cognitive impairment.
The concept we’re going to talk about today was shared with me by Dr. Jacqueline Rondeau, a neuropsychologist who is the founder and director of the Montclair Memory Clinic here in New Jersey, where I live.
She’s been working with people who have MCI for a couple decades now and she’s so knowledgable about it, and so compassionate toward the people who have it.
Her office is only about 20 minutes from where I live, so we got together and had a great conversation. We discussed all the things you hear me talk about in these videos: diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, brain training, blood pressure management, social interaction.
But at the end of that conversation, I asked her, “What else? What am I missing here? What else would you tell someone with mild cognitive impairment?”
And she said, “Well, you know, we should talk about decatastrophizing.”
And I was like, what is that? I had honestly never even heard that word. Here’s how she explained it to me.
She said, “It’s learning to decatastrophize over this, and to support more active ways to handle problems, as opposed to feeling defeated by them, and to emphasize your assets and what brings you joy.”
Now to be clear, this not in any way about denying or discounting what it is you’re dealing with. MCI can be a frightening, distressing diagnosis, and it is hard to live with. Nobody is sugar-coating that.
But it can feel like MCI has taken so much away from you. What Dr. Rondeau encourages you to do is make a deliberate effort to bring moments of calm and reflection and enjoyment back into your life.
“What can we do to decatastrophize, to put things in perspective?” she says. “What are the things you do that help bring you peace of mind? That make you feel at ease?”
She described to me one of her patients who loves poetry. Especially Emily Dickinson. This woman struggles with many things, but she is still able to recite long passages of poetry from memory, and it brings her such pleasure.
For you, it doesn’t have to be poetry. It may be something else. Maybe it’s spending time with your grandchildren. Or some form of artistic expression, or a hobby.
One great way to decatastrophize is by listening to music.
Dr. Rondeau told me, “Sometimes I’ll be working with a patient and they’ll mention a band and I’ll go into YouTube and play a little music, a little Barbra Streisand, for example. (P.S. — If you want a treat, watch the Barbra Streisand video below. I’d forgotten how much I love her music. Maybe you do too.)
Dr. Rondeau says listening to music can be great therapy. “It helps people realize there are still things that they cherish and that make them feel really good,” she says. “To people who have mild cognitive impairment, sometimes they forget to do these things. They stop doing the things that are pleasurable.”
What do you find pleasurable? Maybe watching a favorite old movie. Maybe going to the library and getting an audio book. Or taking a walk in nature. Or maybe you keep a journal, and every day, you write in it something you feel grateful for.
How you decatastrophize is up to you. But I hope you try it. Maybe you already have. If so, tell me about it. Share it, so others might benefit from it, too. Leave it in a comment below.
I would love to hear from you, and I hope to see you again next week. Until then, as always, be kind to your mind.