10 Tips for Dealing with Dementia

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

However you look at it, being given the diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a difficult blow. And even though you or your close family may have had an inkling that the symptoms you were experiencing were due to this condition, the realization that you were right all along is still tough to take.

However, in the early days after your diagnosis, you still can do plenty to prepare for the challenges of your condition’s later stages. Here are ten tips to consider putting into action as soon as you can.

Accept changes

You may notice that some things aren’t as easy as they used to be. You may be quite forgetful at times. Maybe you have missed appointments or forgotten to buy items on your shopping list. You may find calculations involving money trickier to manage. You may have gotten lost while driving even on familiar routes.

Trying to battle these new difficulties while simultaneously pretending they’re not happening inevitably leads to frustration. If you accept your new limitations and work out ways around them with the help of family and friends, you’ll feel more in control and cope better than if you bury your head in the sand.

You need to accept your new challenges and discover ways to adapt by maximizing your remaining functional abilities. Enlist memory aids such as wall calendars, GPS apps, and visible lists.

Keeping track of your prescription medications is essential, but it’s commonly a challenge to remember to take your pills in the early stages of dementia. Use a weekly pillbox to help you remember to take your medications and to see whether you have already taken them.

Let people know what’s happening

You must tell some people about your diagnosis as soon as possible, such as your boss if you’re still working. Your boss may be able to organize workplace adaptations to make things easier for you to manage. Beyond that, it’s up to you which of your friends, family, or colleagues to tell about your diagnosis. Health matters are obviously private, and you may not want every Tom, Diane, or Harry knowing your most intimate business.

Be realistic about driving

When you’re diagnosed with dementia, in certain states your doctor is required to tell the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If you have an accident, it’s possible there will be additional liability especially if your doctor has told you not to drive. Early in the disease, you may still be able to drive safely, but generally your ability to drive safely will erode with dementia progression. You’ll face a time when you have to hang up your keys.

If your loved one with the dementia diagnosis continues to drive, make sure that you personally experience his driving regularly. While driving with him, ask yourself whether you’d be happy if your children or grandchildren were in the car with him. If the answer is no or one of hesitation, then you need to think further. This litmus test for driving safety is important. Admitting that your loved one has reached this stage isn’t easy, but you have to be honest about the reality of the disease and consider the safety of your loved one, his passengers, and those around him on the road.

Work together with your partner

If you’re in a long-term relationship, working together with your spouse or partner to manage your condition is important. Don’t cut your partner off or, worse still, work against him. Now is the time when you need this partnership the most as you prepare to face the challenges of your dementia that will come down the road.

Your spouse or partner may well have thought that you had dementia for some time, but the diagnosis may still come as a shock, and she’ll have to come to terms with the effects of your illness on your relationship. So be honest with her. Share your thoughts and feelings about your dementia or AD and allow her to share hers with you. Consider seeing a counselor together if you need help talking about this difficult subject.

Continue doing activities together that you’ve always enjoyed. As your symptoms change, try new activities that are more manageable but allow you to continue to share the experience. Maybe you can go on a tour rather than traveling independently to lessen the stress of travel. You can still have a great trip. Flexibility at this time of change is essential.

Keep active

Dementia or AD isn’t a prison sentence. You aren’t confined within the four walls of your house for the rest of your life. Keeping fit and active is a great way to make sure your body and brain remain healthy for as long as possible.

If you normally play a sport or go to the gym, keep going for as long as you can (and want to). If you aren’t sports oriented, then go for walks or bike rides. Perhaps you can join a bowling league. Any activity can help you keep connected to friends who can be supportive and understanding of your situation. Not only will remaining active keep you in shape, but it also helps you maintain relationships and meet new people.

Sort out your finances

When you’re newly diagnosed and still fully able to make rational decisions for yourself, spend some time with your family reviewing your financial situation. Consider hiring an independent financial advisor to help you better define where you stand financially. With his help, you can have a current picture of your income, expenses, and savings, and thus plan for whatever expenses the future may bring.

You may be eligible for employee, retiree, veteran, or government-sponsored benefits. Enlist the help of family members or close friends to help you connect to potential resources.

Make a will

You may think that making a will is a bit morbid, but everyone should have one. A will is the only way to ensure that your property, savings, and family heirlooms are passed on according to your wishes. Dying intestate — without a will — puts a huge burden on your family members that are left behind. In such situations, the government takes over and makes decisions for you. No one wants that.

You have many options for preparing a will. You can draw up a will yourself without legal help by simply downloading a form from the Internet and filling it in. However, make sure that the will you prepare meets any legal requirements in your state. Make sure your signature is appropriately witnessed to make your will valid.

Alternatively, you can buy a ready-made will from a bookstore. If you have a lot of assets, you may want to hire an attorney to do a formal estate plan. Doing so can greatly decrease federal and state death tax implications for your family when you die.

Look after your physical health

A diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean that your physical health automatically suffers. To remain in the best possible condition,

  • Eat a healthful, balanced diet that’s low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, and includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Cut out the sodas and sweets. Eat your greens.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water each day.
  • Stick to the guidelines for safe alcohol intake; that’s one drink per day for a woman and one to two for a man.
  • If you smoke, stop! Your physician, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist can provide advice about how to quit with the best chance of success.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t nap in the daytime. Keep a regular schedule to keep your circadian rhythms working appropriately. Day-night reversal can occur in dementia. Guard against this by keeping active during the day so you are tired when nighttime arrives.

Get your annual checkups

Medicare offers an annual wellness visit for anyone over the age of 65 to review your health, arrange screenings, and obtain preventative care like vaccines. Take up the offer. If you already have ongoing chronic health problems, make sure you schedule and keep regular appointments with your primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Other checks worth having include the following:

  • Six-month checkups at the dentist to ensure your teeth, mouth, and gums remain healthy and pain-free.
  • Annual eye exams at the optometrist (eyeglass doctor) to make sure your contacts or glasses maximize your vision. Or go to the ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor) if you have a diagnosed eye problem like glaucoma or cataracts.
  • Regular toenail/foot care from a podiatrist, especially if you have diabetes.
  • A medication review with your pharmacist. A pharmacist can advise you about side effects and interactions between your different medications. Pharmacists can also arrange for your pills to be supplied in a blister pack to help you remember what to take each day.
  • An annual flu shot from your local pharmacy because it no longer requires a doctor’s order. Ask your physician about the shingles and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccinations because these shots often do require a doctor’s order but are important preventative measures.

Continue hobbies and pastimes

In short, don’t give up. Continue to do the things that you enjoy doing with your friends and family. Maintaining enjoyable activities as long as you can will do you a world of good. So continue to play golf or bridge with friends, make pottery, go bird watching, putter around in the garden, travel to interesting places, swim in the local pool, cycle up hills, windsurf, enter your dog in shows, go to your local library programs — get as much enjoyment out of life as possible.