If you or your loved one are one of the estimated 5.4 million in the United States with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, take heart. People with Alzheimer's can still lead full and invigorating lives. The way you cope with the diagnosis and plan for the future can make all the difference to you and your family.
So, what now? How do you live with Alzheimer's disease? How do you cope with a life-changing diagnosis? What should you do?
Whether you have Alzheimer's or are caring for a loved one with the disease, start with the following tips:
Overall Health:Find a good physician and discuss treatment options. There are some effective medications available that may slow the disease process. (Always tell your physician if you're taking any other medications or herbal / natural supplements.)
Share your diagnosis and explain Alzheimer's symptoms to close family and friends. Don't be afraid to ask your loved ones for assistance. Chances are, they will want to be involved and will feel comforted in knowing how to help you.
Don't forget your spiritual health. Journal, pray or meditate as is your practice. If you are part of an organized group, seek their support.
Mental Health:Learn about Alzheimer's and what to expect as the disease progresses. Understanding the symptoms and treatments of Alzheimer's disease can help you and your loved ones cope in a more positive way.
Consider using some of these simple strategies:
- Outline a schedule for the day
- Write down names or special events
- Jot down phone calls that were made or received
- Label cupboards or drawers to help locate items
- Keep a list of important phone numbers by the telephone
Stay active, both physically and mentally. As much as possible, don't give up your hobbies, interests or social outings. Try to stretch your mind by doing mental gymnastics such as crossword, Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles, or other mental exercises.
Recognize that although you may have to slow down with tasks and you may have days that are better than others, you still have much to offer others.
Physical Health:In addition to exercising regularly, get your vision and hearing checked routinely, since deficits in these areas can increase confusion. Pay attention to good nutrition. Sometimes making meals or staying on schedule for them is a struggle, so consider ordering meals in your home. Most communities have meals and delivery available.
If new medications and different doses become hard to keep straight, use a pill box marked with days and general times to organize and track medications.
Check out your community resources and services. Identify what your options and preferences are for in-home care, assisted living, and long term care / nursing homes ahead of time, rather than during a possible crisis.
If you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's, monitor your own health. Be accountable to a friend or family member to take good care of yourself, so that you can continue to care well for the person with Alzheimer's.
Legal and Financial Health:One way you can take control of your situation is by designating someone to serve as your Power Of Attorney for Health Care (Patient Advocate) and Durable Power of Attorney (for finances). These documents provide the legal power for other people to carry out your desires if you are unable to do so. You may also want to complete a living will. (Not all states recognize living wills, but it will still help your Patient Advocate know in writing what your preferences are regarding healthcare decisions.)
Additionally, you'll want to research the cost of different caregiver / facility options in your community. You may or may not need outside help, but taking this step will make it clear which options are financially feasible and which are not. If finances are limited, find out how Medicaid works. Medicaid offers a variety of covered services, both in-home and in facilities, to those who qualify.
Emotional Health:Whether you are the caregiver or the person with Alzheimer's, coping with this disease can be stressful. Give yourself time and grace to adjust to this new challenge.
Continue to spend time as you can with family and friends; social interaction and the support from loved ones are important for your health. If you're experiencing depression, anxiety or other distress, meet with a social worker, psychologist or counselor for assistance.
If you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's, recognize that it is not only a responsibility and a challenge, but also an important privilege. Review these signs of caregiver burnout to guard against them.
Finally, don't do it alone. Join a support group in your community and / or online. Groups are available to provide you and others in your situation the opportunity to share with and support each other.
Alzheimer's Association, Living with Alzheimer's. Accessed July 10, 2011. http://alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_10269.asp
Alzheimer's Society. What If I Have Dementia? Accessed July 10, 2011. http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents.php?categoryID=200349