Seven Tips for Families Who Have Just Learned of an Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • “Dorian, I have to tell you something,” my friend said as we waited to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk on Saturday. She shared that she and her husband had dinner with her parents the night before. Eventually, the conversation turned to everyone’s plans for the weekend, and my friend’s husband shared that my friend was going to be participating in the Memory Walk. Upon hearing this news, my friend’s mother turned to my friend and responded, “Well, I’m glad that you are participating. I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago.” That announcement was the first time that my friend learned about her mother’s diagnosis. At this point, her mother periodically experiences difficulty with words, but isn’t showing any other signs.

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    Saturday’s conversation got me thinking about what I would have done if I had had the opportunity to know about my mother’s dementia at a much earlier stage. Here’s what I would suggest:

    • Read Carol Bradley Bursack’s excellent sharepost with her recommendations of what to do in the 48 hours after a diagnosis of dementia. Her 10 suggestions include: taking time to accept the diagnosis; seek out information about the disease; learn about treatment options; educate yourself about available medications; learn about non-drug interventions; develop a long-term plan of action for treatment and care; involve your family; understand that grief has set in; maintain respect; and understand that life has changed.
    • Make sure that all legal documents related to end of life are completed, such as a durable power of attorney, and that key family members as well as the person’s doctor have copies.
    • Have a conversation with loved one about his or her financial status, including whether the person has a long-term care policy. This information will help in understanding what caregiving options are available as the disease progresses.
    • Begin to identify a caregiving support group in your area so you can learn from others who have served in this role. Tapping into these groups can be so beneficial in helping you realize that you’re not alone.
    • Start a caregiving journal in which you detail not only what your loved one is facing, but also how you’re dealing with these changes. I found that writing a regular sharepost for this website turned out to be one of the best ways to maintain my mental health. It caused me to really reflect on what was going on with my mother and my approach to assisting her. Ultimately, it helped me become a better caregiver.
    • Start taking time for yourself. I believe it’s much easier to start the self-care habit when you’re not in the middle of a heavy caregiving load. And if it becomes a habit, you’ll be less likely to let it drop off your schedule as the demands of caregiving kick in.
    • Be sure to spend time with your own friends. Again, as the health issues related to Alzheimer’s ramp up, you’re going to want to have friends who are good listeners and who also can help you mentally get away from the grind of caregiving.

    Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is not an easy task. My friend is fortunate to have learned about her mother’s diagnosis while the disease is in its early stages. Hopefully, her mom can work with a doctor to develop a treatment plan that helps slow the progression. Developing a caregiving plan is equally as important so that my friend and her family are able to not only help their loved one, but also take care of their own well-being as the stress of caregiving increases.

Published On: November 08, 2010