Coping with an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: A Guide for Family Members
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that gradually destroys thinking and memory skills, known as dementia. In most cases, the disease first appears in a person’s mid to late sixties, although in some cases, it can develop in younger people. Over time, the disease progresses to the point where the sufferer can no longer carry out simple tasks or recognize their loved ones. The main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss, language problems, and difficulties understanding others.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and after cancer and heart disease, it is one of the leading causes of death in America for older people. The progression of the disease varies from person to person, and it could be between 3-10 years (or longer) from diagnosis to death.
When a loved one is been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is difficult news to process that brings lots of complex and intense emotions. For many people, there is an element of grief as you are coming to terms with the fact that the person you love will fade away gradually. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, angry, and frightened, but as the initial shock of the diagnosis passes, you are facing the challenge of how to cope going forward. If your loved one has been given an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and you are worried about how to provide the best possible support, here are some important tips to keep in mind.
Listen to your loved one
You might have a natural impulse to soothe your loved one’s concerns and anxiety with platitudes or reassurances such as, ‘Try not to worry, ‘It will be fine’, or ‘Think positively’. While your heart would be in the right place, they may feel that you are diminishing their struggles or invalidating their feelings. Let them express how they are feeling, and do not try to provide solutions or answers where there are none. Be there for them as they speak, cry, shout, or sit silently, and let them know that you are there for them.
Learn what you can about their condition
It is essential that you and other close family members learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease, such as what is physically happening to your loved one and what lies ahead for them. This will help you to focus on what you can do to help them and prevent you from becoming stressed about what you cannot change. Investigate relevant research and possible treatment options as although Alzheimer’s cannot be cured, scientific studies are ongoing. There are treatments and medications that can help manage the condition.
Respect their independence as much as possible
Depending on the severity of their condition, they may be able to maintain independence and control of their life for some time. Make them part of any decisions relating to their care and respect their desire for freedom where it is safe to do so. Eventually, you and/or other family members may need to step in when they can no longer take care of themselves to ensure that they are getting the best care possible.
Find out what help is available
You might feel that you want to provide all the care that your loved one needs for as long as possible, but no person can take on the full-time care of a person with Alzheimer’s on a long-term basis. It is essential that you seek support from other family members and friends to ensure that you have time to look after your own physical and mental health. If you are not in good health, you will not be able to provide the care that your loved one needs, so do not push yourself too hard.
It is important to know that there are professional services that can provide in-home help or respite care when you need to take a break, but another option is for your loved one to move into a residential facility that specializes in memory care. These facilities give your loved one a safe place to live and expert care for their condition, as well as social events, physical fitness programs, proper nutrition, and fun and engaging activities. You may want to discover what is memory care before your loved one’s condition progresses so you can ensure they get the best treatment as early as possible.
There are also organizations and groups that provide support for people with Alzheimer’s and their families on a local, state, and federal basis, so do some research into what you can access.
Concentrate on improving their life
Quality of life can be greatly improved for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families with the right care and effective coping strategies. It is vital that you accept that their condition will worsen over time, but instead of focusing on what is being lost, look for new ways to improve their quality of life. For example, in the early stages, they might find it useful to carry a list of tasks to complete so they can stay on track during their day.
Regular social interactions and conversations have been found to have a positive effect and, in some cases, can slow the disease’s progression. It is best to avoid asking them to recall memories as this can be stressful and upsetting for someone with Alzheimer’s. They may forget words or find it difficult to finish a sentence or hold a conversation. They may become detached from the present time and/or fixate on false beliefs and are likely to repeat the same stories or questions. While it can be difficult, being confrontational or getting frustrated with them is not helpful, so try to remain as calm and positive as you can when you interact with them.
Prepare for changes yet to come
Watching someone gradually succumb to Alzheimer’s disease means having to adjust to continually changing circumstances and new challenges. You may feel that you have established a routine that works, and you have coping mechanisms in place, only for your loved one’s needs to change again. Over time you will have to make difficult decisions to ensure that your loved one gets the care they need, and you may have to learn new skills quickly. While you cannot change what is happening to your loved ones, you can control how you care for them, learn to treasure the time you have left, and celebrate what they can do today.
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February 24, 2021