A dementia diagnosis can be received with a crushing finality. The frightening decline into late-stage dementia that lies ahead can leave patients and loved ones struggling to enjoy the present. But patients who receive a dementia diagnosis often still have many good years ahead. Seeing a therapist is, of course, one way to learn to cope with the feelings surrounding this diagnosis. Five additional strategies that can help…
Join a dementia support group—with people who share your current level of dementia. Don’t just join the first group you find. If the other members of that group have more advanced dementia, spending time with them will only make you more depressed. You’re more likely to find the friendship and support you need in a group where everyone is more or less at your stage. Example: The Alzheimer’s Association’s “early-stage social engagement programs” are for people in the beginning stages of the dementia. (On Alz.org/help-support, click “Programs and Support,” then “early-stage social engagement programs.”)
Remain active with community and religious groups unrelated to dementia. A dementia diagnosis is neither an embarrassment nor a reason to hide from the world. An estimated one in nine Americans age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s. Your fellow members of community and religious groups probably know other people who have dementia…some likely even have early-stage dementia themselves. Your continued participation not only will help you maintain beneficial social connections and a sense of normalcy, it also could encourage other people facing the same diagnosis to continue to participate as well.
Engage in physical activity. Getting regular exercise appears to significantly reduce the odds of developing dementia. Less well-known is that exercise also might slow the progression of dementia among people who already have it—that was the conclusion of a recent study by researchers at University of California, San Francisco. Even something as simple as walking appears to increase the production of a protein that aids communication between brain cells. Similar: There’s some evidence that shifting to a largely plant-based diet can slow cognitive decline.
Listen to music. Music can help people who have dementia rediscover memories and adjust their moods.
Ask your doctor to review your medications. Dementia typically is diagnosed by evaluating patients’ behavior and performance on cognitive tests. The confusion, memory loss and disorientation that a doctor might assume is evidence of dementia also could be side effects of many medications, including pain meds such as Tylenol PM or Advil PM…Benadryl, an allergy med used to sedate…and bladder pills such as Ditropan and Sanctura. Ativan, Xanax and other sedatives work like alcohol and can make a person look confused and can lead to agitation. If you have been diagnosed with dementia, find a geriatrician to review the drugs you’re taking and deprescribe any that you no longer need and/or that might be contributing to your dementia symptoms. Making medication modifications might reveal that your dementia is far less advanced than you feared…or even that you don’t have dementia at all.