Hearing from your doctor that you may have Alzheimer's disease is likely to be traumatic; denial, anger, fear and despair may be only some of the complicated emotions you experience. But once the initial shock has worn off and you are able to think clearly, there are important issues to consider and steps you can take to live the rest of your life to its fullest potential.
Alzheimer's Disease Is Becoming a Chronic Illness
As people are living longer than they ever have, they are becoming more likely to live with chronic diseases like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. A large 2006 study found that 86% of people at least 70 years old had at least one chronic disease, while 14% had at least four chronic diseases. While longevity following a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is highly dependent on age at diagnosis, a person diagnosed before age 70 -- in general -- lives an average of almost 11 years from time of diagnosis, with many living 20 years or longer. There are already two classes of FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer's disease, and while a cure is not likely anytime soon, other medications may be available over the next several years to help with symptoms and hopefully delay of disease progression as well.
Ensure Your Wishes and Decisions are Respected
Of the many reasons early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is important, having time to get your advance directives in order is one of the most important. The term advance directives refers to preferences about treatment and the designation of a surrogate decision-maker in the event you should become unable to make decisions yourself.
Take Care of Yourself
A wonderful booklet from the National Institute on Aging called "What Happens Next?" emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself. Activities such as gardening, spending time with pets, going out with friends and family, volunteering, getting fresh air and exercise, and listening to music are all excellent suggestions. In addition, making sure you have the right doctor or other health care provider who's knowledgeable about Alzheimer's disease and willing to spend time with you and your caregiver.
Prevalence of chronic disease in the elderly based on a national pharmacy claims database,Age and Ageing 2006; 35(6):633-36. http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/35/6/633#T1
What Happens Next? A booklet about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, NIH Publication No: 07-6199, August 2007. http://www.nia.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/65BFAE0E-DE6B-4B18-A6EA-95C356060827/0/What_Happens_Next082207.pdf