Coping with a dementia diagnosis
“I’m sorry to tell you that you have dementia.” Hearing your doctor say these words is life changing. This diagnosis affects not only you, but also those close to you.
There is no right or wrong way to feel or react. Everyone will respond differently. Shock, anger, fear and grief are all common emotions. Give yourself time to work through it and process the news.
But… what’s next? What can do you to stay in control of your life and of your future? What can you do to prepare for the challenges ahead? There is no cure for dementia. There are treatments available to help reduce symptoms, and there are lifestyle changes that can help slow the progression.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Learn all you can about your diagnosis
It’s a very scary time, and there are a lot of misconceptions. Learning all you can about dementia can help you know what to expect as it progresses, and help you cope with the changes ahead.
Understanding what to expect can help you plan for the future. There are many types of dementia; Alzheimer’s is the most common. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, Vascular or another type, look for information from recognized sources. The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America are good places to start.
2. Plan for the future
Talk with an elder care attorney to help organize your financial and legal matters, including your will and power of attorney documents. Discuss your long-term care plans, continued health care plans and end-of-life care with your loved ones. Appoint someone you trust to make sure your wishes will be honored when you are no longer able to handle your own affairs.
3. Be open about your diagnosis
There will be a wide range of reactions as you tell family and friends about your diagnosis. Just as you may have felt a combination of emotions, they may have the same reactions. Some will not know how to react and may brush it off as “everyone is forgetful.” Relationships may change. Some will not know how to deal with your news and pull away. For those who are there to support you, be honest with them, and let them know what you need. Don’t retreat or isolate. Sadly, there can be stigma surrounding dementia. It comes from a lack of information and an inaccurate understanding. The best way to fight this stigma is to encourage family and friends to learn and to ask questions.
You may find that joining a support group can provide both social and emotional benefits. It gives you the chance to talk with others and a place where you can share tips and strategies.
4. Create a safe home environment
As behaviors and abilities change, it is good to re-evaluate home safety. Talk with your doctor about a home safety evaluation, which can be conducted by a local home health agency. It may be covered by Medicare. This process would include installing grab bars in the bathrooms, adding lighting to dark hallways and stairs, removing throw rugs, rearranging furniture and decluttering to clear pathways. Consider a medical alert system or other technology aids to make sure that help is available when needed.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a checklist of home safety recommendations.
5. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Making simple changes can improve your brain health and help you maintain your independence. Here are seven steps to slow the progression of dementia:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves blood flow and memory; it stimulates chemical changes in the brain that maintain cognitive abilities.
- Stay social. Spending time with others lessens depression and increases cognitive function.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating a brain-healthy diet (such as the MIND Diet) helps reduce inflammation and slows brain aging.
- Keep your brain active. Challenging your brain improves its function and promotes new brain cell growth.
- Get quality sleep. Sleep energizes you, improves your mood, boosts your immune system and helps reduce the build-up of damaging plaque in your brain.
- Learn how to manage stress. Stress causes vascular changes and chemical imbalances that affect the brain; stress-reduction techniques can lessen dementia symptoms and help improve concentration.
- Maintain heart health. Keeping your heart healthy also keeps your brain healthy; monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol, keep diabetes under control, quit smoking, limit alcohol and maintain a healthy weight.
Getting a dementia diagnosis will have a profound effect on you and those close to you. Coping with the realities of dementia can make it hard to think beyond the day to day. Learning all you can about dementia and being proactive in both your current and future care plans can provide a sense of control and empowerment.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,