Dementia isn’t a loss of intelligence

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I had someone comment to me recently that they “didn’t think they’d fit in” with the participants of the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) program I work with because they “would be smarter than everyone.” 

My defenses immediately went up—the way they always do when I feel that someone is insulting my clients living with MCI or dementia. “Yeah…no,” I responded casually, trying to hide my annoyance at this arrogant proclamation. “First of all, most of our participants have at least a Masters degree education. They’re all incredibly intelligent, well-rounded individuals. And secondly, dementia is not a loss of intelligence.”

There’s an assumption that, if you get dementia, you will lose not only your skills and abilities, but that you’ll also get dumber

This just isn’t true. Dementia isn’t making anyone “revert back to childhood” or “lose their intelligence” – it just makes people lose the gains they’ve made as adults.

It’s a completely different thing. The way that we measure “intelligence” isn’t really measurable when someone begins to lose their cognitive functioning, but that person isn’t losing their smarts. They’re losing the things that they’ve learned to do, they’re losing short-term memory, reaction time, judgement, etc, etc…but this is not a loss of intelligence. 

You know this is true if you’ve ever listened to your loved one with dementia talk about their favorite topics. They’re still just as clever, smart and focused as they ever were. One of my favorite moments was leaving a resident of mine–a previous event-planner–to work on the decorations for our Christmas party. Her skills and her intelligence in this area were far greater than mine.

Dementia is not a loss of intelligence.

3 thoughts on “Dementia isn’t a loss of intelligence”

  1. Thanks, I do crossword puzzles with my Mom most everyday, where she use to them by herself. She just needs my help keep focus. Her intelligence is still there. Your blog and podcast are encouraging and a great support.

  2. I used those words because I couldn’t think of any others to use.. I certainly knew my husband’s smarts were still in there. They just couldn’t come out. I went to the MCI program to see how I could help him and how to become more understanding and patient. I learned so much from you and being around the people.. Still having trouble being patient though.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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