Alzheimer's or Dementia
If a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia
If someone close to you has been diagnosed with dementia, you’ll be dealing with a host of difficult emotions. You may be grieving for your loved one, especially if significant memory loss is already present. It’s important to allow time—for yourself and your loved one—to come to terms with the news. Encourage your loved one to open up about what they’re feeling and make yourself available whenever they’re ready to talk.
When talking to someone about their dementia diagnosis, don’t resort to platitudes such as telling them to “stay positive” or comparing their situation to someone else’s. Allow them to honestly express their emotions, even if it’s difficult to hear, or they become angry and upset. Remember, you don’t have to provide answers, just a listening ear and a hug or a tender touch to let them know you care.
Learn about dementia. Understanding what to expect will help you plan for care and transitions and recognize your loved one’s capabilities throughout each stage of the disease. Despite its many challenges, caregiving for a loved one can also be a deeply rewarding experience.
Involve your loved one in decision-making for as long as possible. In the early stages, support your loved one’s independence and self-care, but be prepared for their cognitive and physical regression to ultimately require 24-hour care.
Don’t take on the caregiving journey alone. No matter how dedicated you are, you will need some help in caregiving in order to take care of your own health and other obligations. The sooner you establish a support network, the easier the caregiving journey will be. Support could involve help from other family members, professional in-home help, respite care, or even moving your loved one to a nursing home or other care facility.
Treasure the time you have with your loved one. Although this is a painful time in so many ways, a diagnosis of dementia does offer you the opportunity to savor the time you have left with your loved one. Instead of focusing on the abilities your loved one has lost, celebrate what they can still do. And don’t pass up the opportunity to say your goodbyes, an opportunity that many people who lose someone suddenly regret not having.
Helping a loved one cope with symptoms of early dementia
Short-term memory loss. Encourage your loved one to use a notebook or smartphone to create a to-do list each morning and carry it with them. Avoid questions that challenge short-term memory, such as “Do you remember what we did last night?” The answer will likely be “no,” which can be humiliating for someone with Alzheimer’s.
Language problems. Your loved one may have difficulty recalling words. Getting anxious will only inhibit recall, so be patient with them. Supply the word, or gently tell the person that you can come back to it later. Even if your loved one has trouble maintaining a conversation, it’s important to encourage social interaction.
Understanding. Your loved one may repeat the same question over and over or otherwise fail to understand what you’re saying. Speak slowly so they have more time to process what’s being said. Find a simpler way to say the same thing if it wasn’t understood. Remember, your loved one responds to your facial expression, tone of voice, and body language as much as the words you choose.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith
Emotional Support Line
083 651 3729