10 Things to Do After an Alzheimer's Diagnosis
Sara Suchy Sep 27, 2012 (updated Sep 23, 2013)
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A loved one has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. What now? Here are 10 ways to cope with a recent Alzheimer's diagnosis and prepare for living with and taking care of people with the condition.
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Establish a medical support network
Because Alzheimer's will impact a patient's health in many ways, it is important to establish a medical "team" as soon as possible. Most patients with Alzheimer's will benefit from a relationship with a family doctor or general practitioner, psychologists or psychiatrist, occupational therapist, physical therapists and a nurse.
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Walk a mile in Alzheimer's shoes
To be an effective caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's, it is very important to gain a working knowledge of what it must be like to live with the disease. This perspective and empathy will help the caregiver anticipate the patient's needs and understand their difficulties. Perspective can also help the caregiver psychologically and emotionally cope.
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Educate yourself about Alzheimer's
Learn as much as you can about Alzheimer's disease: its signs and symptoms, how those symptoms manifest themselves and how the disease progresses over time. The better you understand the intricacies of the disease, the better you will be able to anticipate your needs or the needs of loved ones. It is also important to become well versed in the treatments and medications for Alzheimer's disease and their potential side effects.
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Caregiving can be very rewarding but it can also be very stressful and isolating. It is important for primary caregivers and their families to establish a support system of friends and family members. The Alzheimer's Association is a national agency that provides support groups and information for families struggling with Alzheimer's disease.
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Involve the family in care planning
Include the immediate and extended family in care planning to help the whole family understand the potential impact Alzheimer's disease will have on their life and the life of their loved one. Involving the whole family in discussions and decisions regarding financial and legal planning, including estate planning, before the disease progresses significantly will allow the patient to clearly express his or her wishes regarding their care.
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If the person with Alzheimer's is still lucid and able to reason, it is important to always include them in discussion and decisions regarding their care. Find out how your loved one would like to be cared for and what they expect from their primary caregiver. Because Alzheimer's can progress quickly it is important to have these discussions quickly and often so decisions can be made with their wishes in mind when they lose lucidity.
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Future financial planning
As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the patient will be less able to manage personal or business finances. Convincing independent people to accept help with managing their finances can be difficult and each case will require a different approach. Usually, one family member will take control of a loved one's finances once the disease progresses.
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Future legal planning
Much like helping a loved one with Alzheimer's plan a financial future, legal planning is also important to consider. People in the early stages of Alzheimer's will often be able to direct an attorney and establish legal protection. People in the later stages will need much more help with this. A good attorney should be consulted to establish: Wills, durable power of attorney, advanced directives, joint bank accounts, medical directives (DNR, etc.)
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Assess immediate needs
An Alzheimer's diagnosis can come at many stages in the disease's progression. After the diagnosis, the patient's cognitive capabilities need to be assessed and attended to as quickly as possible. Patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's may be able to live relatively independently for a time before comprehensive care giving is needed.
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Take care of the caregiver
Primary care givers will often instinctively put their loved one's health and well being before their own. In order to effectively look after someone with Alzheimer's the caregiver must make his or her own health a priority and seek out help and rest when it is needed. Eight Coping Strategies for Caregiver Stress