I recently wrote a post for the Start Living Today PD group called Parkinson’s Jigsaw. The point being that if you were troubled with cognitive issues there were a whole range of factors that could make up the puzzle.
My interest began when I became one of the contributors to Parkinson’s UK creative writing toolkit. The aim was to encourage engagement and improve the quality of life. I am a member of a couple of Parkinson’s closed Facebook groups as well as using the creative corner on Parkinson’s UK forum. Writing blogs, short stories and poetry is used to communicate and share. It provides a mechanism for engagement -reading other’s work leads to a feeling of sharing and understanding. It allows the processing of difficult Parkinson’s issues.
This led to me thinking about whether you could help cognitive performance by staying mentally active. Using it so you don’t lose it. There was no research to support it but anecdotal evidence suggested this may be a good approach. So I became the co-ordinatoor of Start thinking today PD(a part of SLTPD).
I started to encourage cognitive actities but like the physical side of PD there is a wide spectrum of symptoms and I quickly discovered one size didn.t fit all.
So I started to explore the cognitive tests. These are the tests used to diagnose if there is a cognitive problem and what area of thought it affects.
The cognitive tests usually show a correlation with how far the person went in education and this is a generalisation I have asked about this and the response I had was that achievement was in line with the ability to use mental strategies and problem solving. The thought being that those who learned strategies in earlier life have more tools to use their cognitive abilities.
Going a step farther have those who have cognitive issues the ability to relearn. The answer is maybe. If someone has forgotten the alphabet they may be able to relearn it by singing it. It is possible writing helps by increasing neural pathways giving more links and providing a stronger base for retaining word knowledge.
It has become clear to me that anyone who has/ or thinks they may already have cognitive issues needs to ask their GP/consultant to arrange the tests. Without that nobody can advise what the needs are.
.Another cognitive factor is tiredness and how “off” they are. Cognitive achievements are higher when we are at our best. This is important because if someone has cognitive difficulties if they can align tasks with feeling at their best they will achieve more. This could be doubly important because as soon as we believe something is beyond us it is.. So retaining confidence and self belief is also important.
This takes me to another point as our cognitive abilities can be affected by such as depression( or anxiety both common in those with PD. The ability to initiate can be affected with feelings of apathy or perhaps the inability to know how to start a task. Behaviour can change sometimes due to impulsive behaviour caused by medication. There is a range of factors that are interconnected.
I have also learnt of the struggle those suffering from cognitive abilities face. There is a lack of understanding from others and a loss of confidence.That can be very isolating so we are lucky on the SLTPD group that it’s founder Heidi has decided to publicise her own struggles and include details of the cognitive tests. It is very brave of Heidi to be public about something so personal to try and calm others fears.
I am not claiming we can hold off dementia but I do think we can perhaps maximise the effectiveness of our cognitive abilities. The results of the cognitive tests can help to pinpoint strategies that can assist. Sometimes it is small things that help. An example is it is better to ask a specific rather than a general one. Ie Do you want Indian or Chinese for dinner?, Would be easier to cope with than the open question “What would you like for dinner?
As well as strategies we need to take exercise as studies suggest it improves our cognitive as well as physical abilities. Getting the best sleep we can also help. Creative writing has much to offer if we choose to use it but nothing is better than a well balanced active life.
Where does this leave me with Start thinking today PD? I can’t promise that using cognitive abilities will stave off dementia. We can still encourage using cognitive abilities but I think we should broaden the scope to other strategies to help positivity and mental health. Mindfulness is a tool that may be useful. We also need to encourage positivity and engagement
The best way forward is an engaged positive approach to a well balanced life. Easy for me to say harder to achieve but worth the effort.