What To Do When Your Loved One Is Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s
Learning that someone you love has Alzheimer’s is something that you will never be prepared for. Even if you’ve read the statistics, knew that the person had a family history, or was even beginning to notice subtle signs yourself, learning about the diagnosis is going to be a terrible experience—and that’s okay.
As you face the future of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s perfectly acceptable to freak out a bit. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is life-changing, but it is not life ending, though we completely understand that it may not feel that way at first. Your loved one being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will mean a more challenging, frustrating life, and sadder life, but it does not mean life is over.
When you’ve gotten through the first good cry (and it’s important to know that crying is perfectly okay), then you’ll be ready to start reading about what you should do when your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Death is not the only time we mourn someone. Accepting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis has a lot to do with mourning the loss of the future you may have pictured with that person. You will probably need to have a few good cries, or even work out some rage. Do what you need to do to feel calmer (which you will, in time). Take deep breaths and focus on what needs to be done and know that you will get through this, no matter how hard it may seem. Focus on the present moment and what needs to happen now and not on what the future may hold.
Look for a second opinion
Even medical professionals can make mistakes. When someone is given a diagnosis as serious as Alzheimer’s, it’s important to seek out a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis and the cause. Dementia symptoms can be caused by a variety of diseases and can be mistaken for other things. Even neurologists can make errors when reviewing MRIs. Ask about the age of the machine and be willing to have another MRI done.
Learn about the diagnosis
When someone you love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to do your research to learn more about the type of dementia you’re dealing with. There are 85 different types of dementia and they affect everyone differently. Often, people will have more than one type of dementia with differing symptoms. Each type will have different treatment options, memory losses, life spans, and behaviors, which is why it’s important to learn as much as you can about the type of dementia your loved one has so that you can better cope with the upcoming symptoms and learn more about treatment plans.
Get their finances in order
Now is the time for you and your loved one to sit down and discuss their financial situation. Banking information, PINs, and passwords will need to be shared. You’ll want to make a list of all their benefits and insurances and things like pension plans and RRSPs. Talk to them about beneficiaries, how they want their money dealt with, and any monthly bills they have. Dealing with all of these financial issues and concerns will soon fall to you, which means you need to get all the information in order before your loved one starts to forget this information. You will also need to be given permission by the financial institutions to take control of your loved one’s finances.
Get legal documents in order
Just like finances, this is the time to get all legal documents in order Many caregivers assume that their loved ones’ home is paid off, and it can be a nasty surprise later on to find a second mortgage or home equity line of credit attached to the house. This is also the time to look over the three big documents that people with Alzheimer’s need: their living will, durable power of attorney, and their healthcare surrogate. These documents should be reviewed (or created) to reflect the person’s wishes for their future care.
Have a family meeting
Once you’ve taken some time to come to terms with the diagnosis, it’s time to bring the family together to discuss the future. This might be one of the more difficult tasks you have to do, since other family members may have differing opinions on how the diagnosis should be tackled or what should be done. It’s important to explain the diagnosis and have a plan in place for what needs to be done so that you can quickly see who is going to help, and who won’t. While it might seem harsh now, know that creating a strong support system for both you and your loved one is going to be one of the most vital things. This is also the time to start helping family members understand things like how to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s using these tips, and how to handle that person’s needs.
Know that Alzheimer’s isn’t a death sentence
While this diagnosis may feel like the end of the world, Alzheimer’s does not mean an immediate death sentence, instead, it’s a mortality check. Our time is finite and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can shorten that time, but it doesn’t mean that your loved one is facing imminent death. Alzheimer’s patients can live anywhere from 1-25 years after diagnosis. Depending on treatment plans and care, many Alzheimer’s patients actually succumb to other illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease. Having this perspective can help you appreciate the time you have with your loved one later, while helping you cope with the diagnosis right now.
Don’t neglect your own needs
Being a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s can be extremely taxing. Not only is it physically and mentally exhausting, it can also be emotionally traumatic to watch the effects of dementia take hold. Don’t neglect your own self-care and be willing to ask for help. There is no shame in admitting you can’t do this on your own-you’re not supposed to. Your dynamic with your loved one will change and it’s important not to be in denial about how hard this may prove to be. Face the diagnosis head-on, be prepared for your own self-care, and you will be able to live out the best life you can for you and for your loved one.