A dementia diagnosis can be devastating -- not only for the person with the disease, but for those who love him, too. “There’s a grieving that occurs. You haven’t lost your loved one, but the person you know is going to change,” says Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, professor of geriatric medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
If you or someone close to you has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, here are six steps to help you deal with the disease now and in the future.
Do what you can while you can. “I tell newly diagnosed patients, ‘Let’s talk about what you can do while you have your faculties, so you can decide how the next years will unfold,’” Leipzig says. “Making those decisions, either alone or with family members’ help, can be empowering.” Go ahead and make advance directive documents (which spell out your medical wishes), living wills, and long-term care plans early, Leipzig says.
That trip you always wanted to take? Think about making plans for it now.
Stay engaged. It’s common to feel sad, and even have depression, after a dementia diagnosis, says Ninith Kartha, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. But resist the urge to hole up. Instead, “spend time with family members and friends, attend religious services, or even go shopping,” Kartha says.
If you’re feeling hopeless, see a doctor; he may prescribe antidepressants, talk therapy, or both.
If you’re a caregiver, encourage your loved one to do these things with you. Social support can help him fight depression and stay active, which is good for his health overall. Don’t go it alone – ask other family members to join in.
Get educated. The more information and help you have, the easier it will be to keep yourself healthy and safe. “Patients, and if appropriate, their families, should be in close contact with their physicians, as well as social workers, therapists, and other professionals the doctor recommends,” Leipzig says.
Also, take advantage of free community services, like support groups at your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, university legal clinics, and hospital advocacy services.