Congratulations, mild cognitive impairment. You’re famous.
You used to be this medical condition that nobody even knew existed, until they were diagnosed with it. The doctor would say, “You’ve got mild cognitive impairment,” and the patient would be like, “What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”
But suddenly, mild cognitive impairment has come out of obscurity and into prime time. The lead character on the hit NBC drama “This is Us” just found out she had mild cognitive impairment.
I’ve been the watching the show to see how MCI is being represented to the world.
And much as I feared, what they’re getting right is everything that’s wrong with the way MCI is often treated these days.
So yes, I guess this is us. But I sure hope it’s not you. So let’s make sure it isn’t.
Hi, I’m Tony Dearing, of GoCogno.com, the website for people with mild cognitive impairment.
I don’t watch much television. I had heard of the show “This is Us,” but I had never seen it, until I began to read that Rebecca, the main character, was being diagnosed with MCI. That I had to see.
And now that I’m watching the show, I have to say, it’s a pretty high quality drama. Well written and well acted. And the producers clearly wanted to do a good job with this topic. They have one of the top neurologists in Los Angeles on the set. That’s so when the TV neurologist talks to Rebecca about her condition, it would be as realistic as possible, just the way it might happen in real life.
Unfortunately, they succeeded. Here’s a snippet of dialogue from the scene where Rebecca and her son Randall sit down with the neurologist to get her diagnosis.
Doctor: “This is going to be difficult for you to hear, but it appears you have what we doctors call mild cognitive impairment.”
Rebecca: “Mild cognitive impairment?”
Randall: “What does that mean?”
Randall: “So what are you saying? Could you please just tell us what she has?”
Doctor: “Before we put a name to it, I’d like to do more blood tests and an MRI to rule some things out, but right now, there’s nothing to do but wait and see how Rebecca does over time.”
That is the message that people with MCI have been getting forever. Nothing we can do. You just have to wait and see.
It’s such a misguided attitude of passivity, of a preordained outcome. It’s like someone is planning an outdoor wedding and they say, “I wonder if it’s going to rain on Saturday,” and the answer is, “No way to know. The only thing you can do is wait and see.”
Well, this isn’t a backyard wedding. This is your cognition we’re talking about here. This do-nothing, wait-and-see attitude has always been a profound disservice to people with MCI, and never more so than now, when we know so much better.
In the past couple of years, there’s been an explosion of new information telling us that when you catch cognitive decline at the stage of MCI, you can take steps to address it, and potentially slow it down, or halt or maybe even reverse it, and the odds of doing that are actually pretty good, particularly over a course of four or five years.
I belong to a private group in Facebook for people with MCI and I was very happy the other day to see a doctor getting it right.
Here’s what a woman posted: “My dad was officially diagnosed with MCI this week. The doctor said that we caught it super early and with aggressive treatment it is very possible it won’t ever get worse. My dad who we practically had to force to get tested is now so happy that we pushed him.”
Yes, yes, yes. That’s exactly the message ever person with MCI should be getting. And it’s exactly what they should be doing.
But most people aren’t getting that message. It’s certainly a far cry from what viewers are seeing on “This is Us.” I’ve seen every episode, and so far, and Rebeccas has been offered a clinical trial, which she declined to enroll in. But other than that, no suggestion of anything else that might possibly benefit her.
- Stress management.
- Brain training.
- Social engagement.
- Memory compensation.
- Speech therapy.
All of these things that we know can help people with MCI, she’s not getting any of that so far. But then again, this is TV. Her fate is going to decide by a scriptwriter. So yeah, I guess for Rebecca, we just have to wait and see.
As for you, don’t wait and see. If you can find the right doctor, and there are good ones out there, there’s plenty they can do for you. And there’s a lot you can do for yourself.
Take advantage of that. Defend your cognition. Catch it while you still can, and do something about it.
As to what you can do, that’s what I’m here to show you in these videos, and it’s what I’ll continue to show you. I look forward to seeing you again next week. Until then, as always, be kind to your mind.