Embracing the Diagnosis
Many people use dementia and Alzheimer’s interchangeably. Think of dementia as the umbrella that Alzheimer’s falls under. Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects mental cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning. Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia. It is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.
Some of the most recognized types of dementia include:
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Vascular dementia
• Dementia with Lewy Bodies
• Parkinson’s disease
• Mixed dementia
If your loved one displays symptoms of dementia, the first thing you should do is to get them tested. One of the most important decisions you will make is choosing the right health care provider. Many people stick with a health provider because of longevity, comfort, and loyalty. Relationship with your primary health provider is key; however, if you begin to notice cognitive decline in your loved one, speak with your physician. Most physicians will do a simple cognitive test to assess whether or not the patient shows symptoms of cognitive decline and dementia. Once you receive a “diagnosis” of some form of cognitive decline, I urge you to ask that your physician recommend you to a dementia-specific specialist; a geriatrician with a special interest in dementia, or a geriatric psychiatrist. In addition to a geriatrician, I would also recommend that you find a neurologist that specializes in cognitive decline and dementia.
A mistake that many caregivers make is denying the fact that their loved ones are experiencing cognitive decline. Denial can be detrimental to you and your loved one. Alzheimer’s is a fatal illness, and unfortunately, there is no cure. Embracing the forthcoming changes in your lifestyle, as well as that of your loved one will help prepare you for the life ahead. Denial will only hurt your loved one and add stress to what will sure to be an emotional road ahead.
When preparing for your loved ones journey, consider the following for your loved one:
1. Dementia-Specific Specialist
3. Geriatric Psychiatrist
4. Social Worker
5. Elder Law Attorney
As caregiver, you will need to take care of yourself. Prior to a flight, the in-flight staff always demonstrates what to do in emergency situations. If the flight is in high impact turbulence, and the air masks are deployed, the in-flight staff suggests that we put the mask over our mouths, get oxygen, and then put the mask over the child or loved one that needs assistance. The same theory applies for caregivers. You cannot effectively take care of your loved one, if you lack self-care. Throughout the journey, make time to care for yourself. The caregiver self-care package should include:
1. Spiritual Support from house of worship
2. Caregiver Support Group
3. Social Worker
4. Psychologist or Counselor
5. Respite Support
6. Primary Care Physician
7. Supportive friends and family
I wish that I could say that this journey is an easy one. Unfortunately, it is a very emotional journey. Allow yourself the space to grieve the loss of your loved ones cognitive capabilities. Be patient with your loved ones. They are nervous as well; however, we don’t often see their fears, or anxieties.
The best thing you can do for your loved one as they move forward with Alzheimer’s is to
• Accept the diagnosis
• Embrace the diagnosis
• Educate yourself on how to best manage Alzheimer’s
• Create a coping strategy
• Provide a healthy diet
• Keep your loved active as much as possible
Remember, your loved ones brain is “ill.” You may experience emotional abuse from your loved one. Please, do not take it personal. Do your best to make them comfortable, and continue to embrace them and love on them.
I continue to pray that one day, there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Until then, be strong, and know that you are not alone. Do not be afraid to seek help, and please do not be embarrassed about Alzheimer’s disease.