There are few things in life more devastating than a diagnosis of dementia. Having to face an uncertain future where life’s most precious memories are no longer accessible is something many of us can’t even imagine. Yet, this is a diagnosis that more than 7 million people around the world face every year.
You will undoubtedly face a range of emotions after receiving your diagnosis and you may not know where to turn for help. One of the first things you should do is sit down with your family to discuss the situation and to plan ahead for the upcoming changes. This includes establishing some guidelines for care, determining alternate living possibilities, and meeting potential financial obligations that the future may bring.
Here are some tips to help ensure that the person with the diagnosis and their family members have their needs and wishes are met as the disease progresses:
Learn as much as you can about the disease and what changes you might expect. Knowing what challenges may lie ahead makes it easier to plan for and deal with them. Talk to your doctor about possible treatment options and what your specific prognosis is. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter and ask them for information and resources for assistance.
Appoint a Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy
Because there will likely come a time when the person can no longer make decisions for him/herself, it’s important to find someone trustworthy to make both medical (Health Care Proxy) and financial decisions (Power of Attorney) on the person’s behalf when that time comes. Consult with an elder law attorney to best understand your options, what’s involved and to complete the formal documents that will make it all legal.
Develop a plan of care
If the spouse is still alive and healthy, it’s likely he/she will become the primary caregiver. But caregiving is a highly demanding role and requires the assistance of more than one person. Create a plan of who is available and when to assist with caregiving duties. If no family members are available, start researching for at home care companies who can help provide relief. Look for an agency that offer Certified Care Managers. These individuals are experts in working with clients and families who are facing the challenges of dealing with dementia. Their expertise can be invaluable in all aspects of the planning and support process.
Create a routine
As the disease progresses, anything new and strange may appear threatening to someone with memory loss. People with dementia tend to thrive on familiarity. It helps ground them and make sense out of what may be becoming a more confusing world. When someone with memory loss recognizes something – like their favorite breakfast food, a favorite knickknack, or the morning paper – the more they understand the world. A routine also make caregiving easier.
Investigate alternate living/care options
Alzheimer’s, as is the case with virtually all dementias, is a progressive disease, meaning the symptoms will continue to worsen during the life of the disease. One option is to hire an in-home caregiver. This allows the person to remain in familiar and comfortable surroundings while receiving the specialized care they need. Another option is a memory care community. Take the time now to investigate senior living communities in the area to discover which ones offer memory care.
Caring for a person with dementia can be an extremely disheartening experience. Being asked the same question several times in a short amount of time can become tiring. Always remember that your loved one isn’t doing any of this on purpose and if they knew what was going on, they would most likely be ashamed. Look for the person who knew and loved before the disease and help that person make the best of a challenging situation.
Accept help from others
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other family members and friends for support, whether that is having them spend some time with your loved one so you can run errands, or just spending some time with you to share your feelings of how your new circumstances are affecting you. Home care is also a great option, as these individuals are skilled in the area of senior care and can offer professional caregiving services anywhere from three to 24 hours a day.