Understanding and Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease
We all have those days when things seem to slip our mind completely. Maybe you forgot to feed the dog before work or find yourself wondering why you walked into a room. But what happens when an older family member’s forgetfulness goes far beyond being absent-minded, and you fear this is the start of something much more serious?
Watching the signs of dementia unfold in someone you love is unsettling to see, and it’s common to want to suppress your suspicion. But, by catching dementia early and finding support, you and your loved one can equip yourselves with the tools and knowledge for a more comfortable future living with Alzheimer’s. This November for National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we aim to shed light on Alzheimer’s disease and help those affected by it.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Dementia is the name for progressive brain syndromes which affect behavior, memory, emotion, and thinking. Although there are over 100 forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known, accounting for 50-60 percent of all cases. And while there is no cure, treatment and support are available.
As we get older, our muscles weaken, and our immune systems decline, but the leading cause of disability among the elderly is dementia. Each case of dementia is different, but those affected eventually need assistance with daily tasks and are unable to care for themselves independently.
Common signs of dementia include an inability to cope with change, short term memory loss, difficulty finding the right words, mood changes, a lack of interest in usual activities, and confusion about familiar things.
Catching it early
A diagnosis of any kind can be hard to accept, and many people struggle with the idea of themselves or a loved one having Alzheimer’s disease. The emotional implications of a disease that erases memories of a lifetime can be overwhelming. But, if you start to notice symptoms of dementia in yourself or a loved one, it’s important to act right away.
The sooner someone comes to terms with having Alzheimer’s disease, the sooner they can determine a plan of action. Finding support and becoming educated in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can decrease someone’s chances of being admitted to a long-term care facility.
Since dementia affects the brain, the benefits of catching it early can make the long-term transition more manageable by having arrangements in place. Many logistical decisions that are better to make in the early stages of dementia include:
- picking medical and caregiver teams
- preventing risky activities like driving and being in public alone
- updating legal documents
- designating someone to handle finances
- documenting wishes for long-term care in the future
- appointing a legal proxy
So, what if you’ve come to terms with your loved one’s diagnosis, but they haven’t? This is also a common theme in the early stages of dementia, and there are steps to help ease the denial process.
First, it’s important to sympathize with why they are not accepting they have Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes denial is a coping mechanism, so the person doesn’t have to come to terms with what the future holds. Other times, someone may downplay the seriousness of the diagnosis by blaming their memory loss on getting older. However, dementia is a brain disease and not something naturally inherited with age.
In some cases, Alzheimer’s patients might forget their diagnosis altogether. Even if it seems they have accepted the news upon diagnosis, it’s possible they could forget the doctor appointments or results. Another common reason for denial is because of the stigma surrounding the disease. Alzheimer’s is still vastly misunderstood and feared by people around the world. Someone might feel scared, embarrassed, ashamed, or like a burden for having Alzheimer’s disease.
How to help
1. Educate Yourself
The more you know about the disease and how it works, the better prepared you can be when dealing with it. Researching online, speaking to others who have been affected by it, and reading books about Alzheimer’s are all great ways to educate yourself on the disease.
2. Have Patience
People who have dementia have a daily routine filled with repetition. Someone living with Alzheimer’s often needs to be continuously reminded of the same things. Try to be intentional every day by staying calm and having patience with your loved one.
3. Accept Help
Dealing with Alzheimer’s can cause mental and emotional stress that’s hard to handle on your own. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from those closest to you and explore the services nurses and hospices can offer to lighten your load.
4. Talk to Someone
Alzheimer’s disease takes an emotional toll on everyone involved. Watching your loved one forget past life events, the names of family members, or who they are themselves is tough to process. Talking to someone about what you’re feeling and seeking support from friends, a local support group, or a therapist is a helpful way to cope with your emotions.
We support all families in our community and encourage everyone to keep an eye out for symptoms of dementia in older family members and friends. Take the time during National Alzheimer Awareness Month to check in with your loved ones and educate yourself on the disease that affects so many people worldwide.
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