I wish my mother had been willing to find out what was behind her memory loss earlier. In (my) ideal world, such a diagnosis would have allowed Mom to come to terms with her loss as well as let family members and friends know how better to help her (and to express our love and admiration for her). So based on hindsight, I’d like to suggest the following six ideas for someone who has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia relatively early in the disease’s progression.
- Reach out to family and friends. My mother didn’t want anyone to know that she was suffering from memory loss. She worked hard to cover up her lapses and became increasingly secluded before the diagnosis was made. By not acknowledging the situation, Mom didn’t do any favors for our family. My parents were stuck in constant fight mode over a three-year period, as my father couldn’t understand Mom’s increasingly turbulent reactions (which were caused by the disease) and responded in kind. My brother and I also were stymied since we lived at a distance and didn’t have all the facts. I believe that if Mom had faced her situation, each family member would have figured out how to support her and also would have worked together to identify the appropriate next steps concerning my parents’ living situation (such as helping them move closer to be near one of their adult children or assisting them in finding support in the city where they lived). Also because of the way the situation played out (she agreed right before her diagnosis to move from the West Texas city where my parents lived to the city where I reside), her friends never had a chance to be supportive in her time of need and to let her know how much she was loved.
- Be willing to share control. My mother never would give up control. And because of her stance, I learned a lesson – sharing control lets other people demonstrate how much they love you. Therefore, I’d encourage someone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia to relax and let others help. Please know that I’m not saying that the person with Alzheimer’s should give up. Instead, I’m suggesting that by periodically asking for assistance, the loved one can build a supportive community around them whose members will be there regularly through both good and bad times.
- Practice extreme self-care. Increasingly research is finding links between exercise and the slowing of Alzheimer’s. And there’s also been enough research about a healthy diet’s impact on memory to include this item on the priority list. Therefore, making time to go to the gym and fixing nutritious meal aren’t luxuries for someone in the early stages dementia; instead, these should be necessary parts of the daily routine. Also, find ways to reduce stress, whether through listening to calming music, meditating, or relaxing in a hot bath.
- Find a support group made up of other people with dementia. A group of people who are dealing with similar issues and challenges can provide a powerful support to help each member cope. This type of support is important to anyone who is facing a physical challenge. Dementia is no different. Providing support to each other and hearing each other’s stories is a critical component of self-care.
- Get your legal paperwork in order. Now’s the time to make sure that all paperwork related to end of life decisions is completed. Don’t postpone this task any longer; just get it done.
- Be involved in planning for your future. It’s your life, and you need to take charge of what you want even more so after a diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. In discussions with your family members, share the details of how you want to live now and also in the future. Be honest with them about your fears, and let them be honest about how your diagnosis may impact them. Come to consensus about the big issues such as where you want to live and when you could see yourself moving into an Alzheimer’s facility. Talk about who in the family will assume what roles, such as caregiving, overseeing finances, and taking care of your pets.
Facing a diagnosis of dementia is obviously a challenge, but it’s also a sign of great strength. Each day offers a chance to celebrate your life with your family members and friends, and a chance to live life on your terms. I salute you!
Published On: July 06, 2009