When someone you love has just received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it’s likely not a complete surprise to you. You might even be the one who made the appointment for the assessment, after observing symptoms that concerned you. But even if you were certain you understood what was going on, there’s something stark about a diagnosis. Now it’s official. It’s time to act.
But there’s so much to do! Alzheimer’s affects every aspect of a person and their family. Where do you even begin?
One way to calm the stress of a thousand separate details competing for attention in your mind is to divide them into categories. There’s an old proverb that my mother used to recite as a principle of housekeeping: A place for everything, and everything in its place. You can use the same maxim to tame the turmoil of the mind.
What categories can you use to organize your plan of action to care for your loved one? This is a highly personal choice, but I’d like to suggest one simple schema of four categories that come in two pairs: Physical and emotional, and present and future.
Physical: This category is the most straightforward. It begins in the doctor’s office with prescriptions and referrals. Does the doctor recommend medication at this point? What further tests are needed?
Next in the physical category comes safety. Consider the question of driving—is your loved one safe behind the wheel, and if not, what transportation arrangements can you make? What about the home environment? An occupational therapist can help here by making an assessment of both your loved one’s condition and the appropriateness of their environment. Are falls a concern? Cooking, eating, sleeping, and hygiene are also main areas to be assessed.
Emotional: This is a very broad category because we human beings are so complex. If you are going to be involved in any way in the care of someone who has Alzheimer’s, you have two emotional worlds to attend to: that of the person you’re caring for and your own.
You will be surprised how much these two emotional worlds overlap. For example, if you learn strategies for focusing on the emotional content of your loved one’s confusion rather than on their perception of the facts of the situation, you will be both addressing their emotional distress and budgeting your own emotional energy.
For both of you, the key to emotional management is support. Support comes in many forms: there are support groups, both online and in person; there’s help from public and private agencies; and there’s your own personal network of people who are willing to help. Resolve to take advantage of the support that you have access to for both of you. Don’t underestimate the magnitude of your mission!
The present: What are the needs that must be addressed now? This category includes all the details of daily life, such as dressing, grooming, meals, and doctor’s appointments, as well as the need for companionship and enriching activity. The present has financial and legal concerns too: Is it time for you or someone else to arrange for power of attorney to make legal decisions? Should you begin talking to family members and financial advisors to make long term plans?
The future: Education is the key here: if you have some idea of what to expect as Alzheimer’s progresses, you can begin to look into possible arrangements. That way, when the need arises, you will already have an understanding of the options and possibilities. Learning about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is also important for preparing for the future. Read about what changes to look for and what they mean.
One theme that emerges from all these categories is the importance of education. Learning about the emotional and physical effects of the disease and how to address present and future needs will arm you for your great mission of love in caring for someone who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.