It was a rough transition for Paulan Gordon of Cincinnati, Ohio.
She had been at the top of her class at Walnut Hills, long ranked as Ohio’s premier academic high school. She went on to a robust business career that included being director of operations for a major investment firm. Then four years ago, her life seemed to veer off course.
In a telephone interview, 61-year-old Gordon said, “The first symptom I noticed was of repeating myself constantly, asking the same questions over and over. The other symptom was going into rooms and forgetting why I was there. I knew I was forgetting things and thought I was just having senior moments. Then my daughter, without my knowledge, wrote down one day every time I repeated myself and had gone into a room and forgotten why I was there. I was shocked. She had three pages filled within an hour time frame.”
A psychiatrist diagnosed mild to moderate dementia, vascular type. The National Institutes of Health states vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes. Risk factors include having diabetes, hardening of the arteries, stroke, smoking, and high blood pressure. At the time, she was on a leave of absence from work.
She said, “I was shocked more than anything. I’d never thought something like this would happen. My whole identity was wrapped up in my academic and scholastic achievements.”
Recently, a Nashville Public Television crew over two days recorded what would become a one-hour segment on Gordon and dementia. She said, “They shot a lot of personal things, like me taking the dog for a walk with my husband, and activities, such as when I meditate, do adult coloring books, and cook and eat.” They also recorded Gordon chatting on Dementia Mentors (an online support group) with other people with dementia. The segment was scheduled to air mid-June.
She advised people suspecting dementia, “First, you need to be tested by a doctor and then build a support system that could include a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, and online support (such as Dementia Mentors). Next, don’t focus on the end stage (of the disease). Get involved in advocacy activities to give you a sense of purpose. When diagnosed with dementia, you can lose your job, so you’ll need to replace that with something. Advocating for people with dementia and (using) online support groups gives me back the purpose I lost.”
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