A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be life changing for a senior and those close to them. If your loved one is dealing with memory loss, they are not alone. One in three seniors have dementia and over 5.1 million Americans are thought to be living with the disease.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis affects the entire family. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, it is estimated that one to four family members act as caregivers for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease.
While receiving a diagnosis of dementia can prove to be a difficult and emotional time, it is important to consider what to do next. There are certain steps you will want to take following diagnosis to plan for your loved one’s future so that they can live independently and comfortably with Alzheimer’s for as long as possible.
As the saying goes, “knowledge is power” and when it comes to coping with a complex diagnosis like dementia, educating yourself about the disease should be a top priority. Ensure that you understand the stages of Alzheimer’s onset so you have a good idea of what to expect as your loved one’s symptoms change and progress. You can also reach out to organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association for education and support.
Deal with Emotions
After receiving the diagnosis, you and your loved ones may be experiencing a roller coaster of different feelings that range from shock and disbelief, to fear, sadness, and even relief. Each of these reactions is normal and to be expected. Take care of your emotional needs and find healthy ways to deal with your feelings such as by journaling or talking with a friend. Surrounding yourself with a strong support system is crucial at this stage.
Keep in mind that emotional support is important for your loved one as well. According to the groundbreaking “Best Friends” approach to Alzheimer’s caregiving established by leading dementia experts Virginia Bell, M.S.W. and David Troxel, M.P.H., a loving, positive atmosphere is key to helping those with memory loss feel safe and secure.
Decide Who You Want to Tell
After you start adjusting, you may want to inform family and friends about your loved one’s diagnosis. Telling others your loved one has dementia can be a difficult thing to do. Explaining Alzheimer’s disease to children may seem especially challenging, but there are many resources to help grandkids and teens understand dementia. If you feel hesitant to share the news with other people, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way of deciding who to tell and when.
Plan for the Future
If remaining at home is no longer a viable option given your loved one’s dementia symptoms, it may be time to consider a move to a senior living community, assisted living, or a long-term care center where they can receive personalized help with day-to-day tasks such as dressing, bathing, and medication monitoring. A person-centered memory care program that takes into account each individual’s life history, cultural heritage, current abilities and interests can help your loved one feel supported and cared for in the face of physical and mental changes.
Build a Care Team
As you begin to make decisions about treatment, medications, and living arrangements following diagnosis, you will need a team of trained health care professionals supporting you. Your relationship with your loved one’s doctor is very important. Find out if the diagnosing physician will continue to manage your loved one’s care going forward, and if not, find a primary doctor who has experience treating Alzheimer’s. Your care team may also include nurses, home care aides, social workers and other professionals who have specialized training in supporting the needs of people with dementia.
Staying active through exercise and a healthy diet can slow the pace of memory loss and help those with Alzheimer’s maintain a good quality of life. Keeping everyday activities as routine as possible can also help manage stress and stave off symptoms such as aggression or sundowning behavior. If in a safe and structured environment, many seniors with dementia are able to continue doing many of the things they enjoy without letting their illness get in the way, such as taking a walk, going shopping, or engaging in physical activities like Tai Chi.
Elmcroft’s Heartland Village offers a memory care program utilizing the Best Friends® approach. Built around each individual’s life history, cultural heritage, current abilities, and interests, this “person-centered” approach allows us to care for our residents as we would a beloved family member. The special associates at Elmcroft improve the quality of life for your loved one, not only by providing assistance with daily living activities, but also by involving them in structured programming that is meaningful and purposeful.