False Evidence Appearing Real

Even the word dementia elicits feelings of fear. Most seniors fear they could be at risk of developing dementia, especially if they are over 80 when percentages increase. An actual diagnosis is like a death sentence creating a fear of what will come, and if you live and care for someone experiencing the roller coaster symptoms, each day can bring fear of what the day might hold. If someone close or family has dementia, there’s often an underlying fear of someday getting it.

Fear triggers our fight or flight mechanism which has been hard-wired into our brains since our ancestors ran from saber-toothed tigers. It was meant to protect us when confronted with danger, and once the danger had passed it would quiet again. However, in these stressful times, fear has become a part of modern living, and it is far from quiet. Now fear takes the form of chronic anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and worry. Yes, worry is fear, and most of us have experienced this.

However, we aren’t running from tigers anymore. Instead of fearing what’s happening in the present, we fear what might happen in the future. So, what we fear isn’t real because it hasn’t happened yet and might not ever happen.

Fear puts the brain and body into a survival mode releasing neurochemicals and hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine), Norepinephrine, and cortisol. Adrenaline creates our immediate reaction, and Norepinephrine backs up the adrenaline, increasing responsiveness and moving blood flow away from the skin and extremities to muscles to help you flee.

Cortisol, however, takes a few seconds longer to kick in. It’s a multi-function steroid hormone produced by adrenal glands that recognize the threat through the amygdala, then relays the message to the hypothalamus, which activates the pituitary gland to tell the adrenals to produce Cortisol. When you have chronic fear or worry, your body continuously releases Cortisol. This can suppress your immune system, increase blood pressure, create sugar imbalance, and contribute to obesity and more.

We aren’t built to continuously live in fear. Chronic fear puts our body functions out of balance and causes our mental state to deteriorate. We are at risk of heart disease and prone to illness because of lowered immune systems. Constant anxiety leads to changes in our brain structure as neurons wire up to it, commonly causing depression. Nothing good comes from fear unless we are in immediate danger and need to escape.

If you’ve received the diagnosis of dementia, you fear what will come even if you are presently functional. As dementia progresses, fear becomes more chronic as alterations in perception, memory loss, and inability to function creates anxiety. Your fight or flight mechanism doesn’t turn off. This contributes to why people with dementia are commonly so emotionally volatile. They are continually on the defensive wary of danger easily triggering fight or flight.

When caregivers are experiencing chronic stress and anxiety, it can burn them out even faster than the 24/7 work each day. They also become emotionally volatile, exhausted, and prone to depression and physical illness.

If you are a caregiver, it is essential that you learn to manage fear. Watch your diet, limit your intake of world news, try meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi, and get help if you can’t handle your fear alone. When you reduce your fear, your loved one will too. Amid the tempest they are experiencing, you become their calm in the storm, enabling them to feel safe and reducing their fear. Caring for them becomes a more positive experience for both of you.

What we fear most is what might be; what doesn’t exist in the present. In other words, false evidence appearing real.


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