An Alzheimerâ€™s Disease (AD) diagnosis causes inevitable turbulence in your life and for those around you. This is a major health journey that has a clear route ahead and itâ€™s scary to receive the news knowing the outcome. However, there are things Alzheimerâ€™s patients can do to make the future road feel less burdened. While they wonâ€™t change the diagnosis, the active steps you take in the early days will empower and enable you. Below is some advice about how to proceed after a diagnosis and what aspects of life are most likely to be affected.
What is Alzheimerâ€™s?
Alzheimerâ€™s disease affects the brain and therefore multiple abilities. It is currently degenerative in that there is no cure, only methods of treating the symptoms and slowing the progression. It affects short and long-term memory, general cognitive skills like thinking, verbal factors such as conversational ability, motor skills like posture and chewing, and the capacity to perform basic daily tasks we take for granted such as getting dressed, cooking, and cleaning. The depletion of memory is the core focus and that is what causes this gradual decline in function. It is diagnosed through symptoms but also by confirming the presence of plaques growing on the brain cells.
The Emotional Toll
Naturally, as with any degenerative and debilitating condition, there is an expected emotional toll that comes with the diagnosis. This is not just for the patient, but for those they are close to as well. To properly circumvent this, it becomes important to connect with the emotional side of the journey as well. There will be dark days ahead that consequentially demand a lot of your mental health. The dementia sufferer may experience initial anxiety and depression about the diagnosis, which if left untreated and ignored, will only exacerbate symptoms moving forward. As someone close to the situation, you might also feel helpless and even angry at times. These are all normal responses, but they need to be accepted in order to process and cope.
There are medications available for certain aspects of Alzheimerâ€™s disease. These, while not curative or even preventative, have more of a management and elevation focus. No current form of tablet or medicine exists in the world to counteract or cure the effects of memory loss, or memory loss itself. This is an inevitable outcome of dementia, but it is still important to engage with treatment plans prescribed by those involved with the care plan. Depending on when the diagnosis is received, i.e., what stage the dementia is (late or early on-set), the options will vary.
Positive Steps to Take
Regardless of treatment options, there are some universal positive steps that everyone can take to soften the effects and therefore make the worst days feel more controllable. Despite it feeling counterintuitive, staying positive and finding motivation to keep moving is one of the best things you can do to support mental health and find comfort.
Create a Reliable Routine
A reliable routine is one that can be counted on every day and every night. It doesnâ€™t change or fluctuate in any obscure way, and it is characterized by predictability. For people who are struggling with memory loss or confusion, it will be a saving grace. Humans like structure and depend on having their needs met by their environment. When this process becomes less intuitive, the need for surroundings to provide comfort and familiarity comes to the forefront of daily life. Here are some top tips for creating such a routine.
Ensure that mealtimes include familiar foods at a similar (if possible exact same) time. During the later stages, nutritional components will need to be monitored closely but in the early stages, the simple act of repetitive timings will suffice.
Manage familiar routes in the home and donâ€™t make any major changes that could cause disorientation or worsen an episode of confusion. Thinking in a clear process becomes more difficult as the disease progresses, therefore keeping everything as status quo is a big helping factor. If the need does arise for any big move, for example, a renovation or a house move, do it as early and as considerately as possible.
Try to include a daily walk into the schedule to support physical movement and combat isolation tendencies of withdrawal. If a carer is involved in the early stages, have them scheduled at a predictable time like an evening meal or first thing in the morning.
Donâ€™t be afraid to let patterns settle in. If the Alzheimerâ€™s patient has always watched a certain TV program at the same time every day, let them. This will be a comfort to their mind and a deeper familiarity which, if taken away, may make symptoms worse.
If change does have to happen, try to do it on as small a scale as possible. Memory patients are far more sensitive to the smaller changes in life than to other conditions. They spark the risk of a downward spiral and worsening of cognitive capacity. So, stick to the routine and donâ€™t, for example, make them move across the country.
As Alzheimerâ€™s progresses, the nature of the disease means inevitable intervention will be required, usually in the later stages. Independent living is attainable up to and until the condition makes the daily tasks of life too difficult. Therefore, care facilities with the specific purpose of caring for memory diseases and conditions are the only viable option here. There are multiple establishments that provide assisted living arrangements in Ballwin and beyond in this context. The best option for achieving optimal care outputs is one that has bespoke agenda for this remit.
Take a Driving Assessment
During the early stages, the patient may retain levels of autonomy in their daily life. Yet, activities that came easily and held no potential dangers become more difficult and more dangerous as the disease advances. Taking regular driving assessments will determine the capacity to operate a vehicle safely and successfully. As the disease progresses, driving becomes inaccessible as it is simply too much of a risk for the patient and others on the road.
There are brain friendly foods that should be added to the dietary regime. These are not to provide a cure, but more to support wellness within the brain and all its functions. Omega-3, protein, and antioxidants like berries or nuts are all highly recommended for supporting cognitive capacity, thought processes, and logical thinking. If these can be added to the meal plan without causing too much turmoil, they absolutely should be. Alongside these superfoods, maintain the usual balance with grains, vegetables, and fruits too. Mealtimes are important in supporting general well-being and could be a potential problem area as things progress. This makes it all the more important to establish positive routines and habits in the early days of the disease.
Staying active after a diagnosis might feel difficult. There is bound to be a lack of motivation to get out and about, especially with the added fear of a confusion episode looming over. However, physical exercise supports brain health in both relating to cell regeneration, hormonal and chemical aspects, and mental well-being too. Aside from the advantages for the mind, there are also physical benefits to keeping up an exercise agenda. Mobility capacity decreases down the line, so staying active and trying to support muscles and bones while it is a possibility is arguably the best route to take.
There are lots of groups for people to attend with similar conditions. The social part of life does not have to be over just because memory is fading. It is a natural thing for humans to connect with other humans and it helps combat negative mental health and boosts self-esteem, independence, and general engagement. Quality of life is improved with the smallest increase in socialization, even the simple act of saying hello to a neighbour or having a quick phone call check-in with a relative or close friend is enough to feel connected to the outside world and stave off the tempting isolation.
Alzheimerâ€™s is a degenerative condition, as discussed above. That means eventually the disease will overcome the body and therefore before the mind is taken over too, it is ideal to get important life admin taken care of. Sort out wills and executors, financial aspects and all accounts, and even funeral arrangements if you wish. It is better to do it when capable of doing so rather than leave it for someone who has not been involved before.
An Alzheimerâ€™s diagnosis is daunting and often leaves people feeling angry and helpless. The road ahead will be long and demanding, but it is worth engaging with all the tools out there that can make it easier. Despite there being no active cure, the world is becoming more equipped to support those with memory-based diseases in old age. Finding a good support system and trying to not do everything alone are two of the most positive steps to take after a diagnosis. You donâ€™t have to do it all by yourself, and social cues are more important now than ever.