When your loved one receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you can feel a mix of emotions, all of them valid. You might feel a bit of relief because you now have a concrete reason why things have been “off” with your loved one over the past months or years. You might also feel sadness and anxiety about planning for the future.
Although everyone handles their initial emotions differently and every situation is unique, there are a few things you can do in order to advocate for your loved one’s future health, happiness, and safety. Here are some initial steps you can take to begin to best plan for the future.
1. Get Support and Education
First and foremost, it is important to get the support you need so you can advocate for your loved one. The more education and resources you have, the better you can make confident decisions and plan for the future. You can also begin to form a peer group, which is especially important as you grapple with an uncertain future.
You Aren’t Alone
While having a loved one with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia can feel isolating, you are most definitely not alone in the journey. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 6.2 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. The World Health Organization expands the reporting further, noting that approximately 50 million people around the globe currently live with some type of dementia.
While these numbers are startling, it means you are not alone in your journey with dementia. Often, the support you need is only an online search away.
Seek Local Support
You can find support in your town by looking for support groups through your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or through a local hospital or senior living community. These support groups can prove to be invaluable throughout your loved one’s journey with the disease.
You can also find additional educational resources through your city’s senior services program or through a local area agency on aging. These can be especially helpful as you research tools or support services that provide you some relief as you take on different caregiving duties.
Finally, you can also turn to your loved one’s physician for reliable information, especially when it comes to current and future medical needs and how to plan for them.
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2. Involve Your Loved One
Thanks to early diagnosis, more and more older adults are able to actively take part in their own future planning. This is a wonderful advancement that empowers newly diagnosed adults to be a part of their future planning, helping them to maintain dignity and more independence.
Involvement in Planning
It’s important to keep your loved one involved throughout their future planning process. Not only is it empowering, but it also gives them control over their future by encouraging them to share opinions and wishes.
In the early stages of the disease, your loved one can still capably be a part of the decision-making process. This is the perfect time to review any advance directives with them as well as tidy up their will and estate plans. You can ensure power of attorney designations are in place, and that those roles have been communicated to the family.
Touring Senior Living Communities
It is also wise to involve your loved one in touring senior living communities, even if they don’t need the services yet. Again, this dignified approach empowers them to be in control of their future. Plus, getting them involved with senior living tours gives them an opportunity to become familiar with a new place, which can later reduce the risk of transitional stress during a move.
3. Evaluate for Safety
Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia affect different parts of the brain. This means that the disease causes more than just forgetfulness. It can also cause decreased executive function and judgment, which can make living at home alone challenging when it comes to safety.
You can adapt your loved one’s personal routine and their home environment to meet the challenges of early-stage dementia.
Start by ensuring your loved one is safe to drive. Talking about driving safety can be a more difficult conversation than you might expect. However, you can make the conversation easier by ensuring you have transportation solutions ready so that your loved one can maintain independence and an active social calendar.
Next, talk about how your loved one can call for help if they find themselves lost or confused. A medical alert system with a GPS tracking feature can be an excellent option, but a cell phone can work just as well, as long as your loved one is in the habit of keeping it nearby.
Finally, consider how to create a daily check-in system for your loved one’s well-being. This might be a daily morning and evening call when you cue your loved one to take their medications and ask about their day, or it might be a family member stopping by daily to check on personal and house hygiene, the food in the fridge, and the pillbox.
If you or your loved one begin to feel overwhelmed with implementing these strategies all at once, take a step back. Try to implement one safety measure at a time so that you can both get used to it and make any adjustments necessary.
4. Remove Stressors
For those living with early stage dementia, certain daily or weekly tasks can be very stressful. Keeping up with bills can seem overwhelming, for example, and food preparation three times daily can seem nearly impossible.
Pay attention to which stressors are causing extra anxiety for your loved one, and remove those if possible. Take over paying the bills, sign your loved one up for Meals on Wheels services, water the plants when you visit weekly, or have all physician communication come to you instead of to them. These steps can help decrease their anxiety, which is often a hallmark of the disease.
5. Increase Socialization
Adults living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia are more likely to end up being isolated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they may feel self-conscious about their memory loss and choose to skip favorite social events. Other times, they may feel overstimulated when out and about with their friends.
In either case, it is important to help your loved one stay connected to friends and family on a regular basis, to help them maintain their health. Isolation and feelings of loneliness have been linked to more rapid cognitive decline. Work with your loved one to set up regular visits with friends, drive them to their book club or church gathering, or attend a special event with them.
6. Look into Senior Living
Ensuring the health, happiness, safety, and socialization of your loved one can feel overwhelming. It’s a lot to think about! Fortunately, senior living offers the opportunity for your loved one to live in a community designed just for them.
Specialized Memory Care Communities
Memory care communities are carefully created to combat common challenges that come with cognitive decline. Team members are specially trained in best practices for care, ensuring your loved one receives personalized interventions to help them feel safe and comfortable. Additionally, memory care communities thoughtfully create environmental and architectural elements that help residents feel right at home, while also keeping them safe from wandering.
An exceptional senior living community can offer your loved one healthy meals, socialization, and daily support. That means you have reassurance that they’re well cared for.
The Benefits of Planning Early
While it might seem too early to begin looking into senior living, your loved one can find comfort in settling into a new memory care environment during the early stages of the disease. They can make friends, arrange their apartment the way they want, and get acclimated to the rhythm of the community. They are also more likely to feel confident in their new home, which can reduce transition anxiety that typically happens if a move is attempted in the middle stages of memory disease, instead.
Curious what a memory care community really looks like in action? Check out A Day in the Life: Memory Care to learn more about Shelby Jean and her daughter, Shelly. Memory care made a big difference in both of their lives as they grappled with Shelby Jean’s cognitive decline.