Receiving news that your loved one has dementia can be difficult to digest. There is no “correct” way to respond to the news, but you know that the diagnosis will affect the whole family. Everyone needs to be as supportive as possible.
By Jaclyn Tan
Photo credit Matthias Zomer
This article will address the practical, rather than emotional, aspects of dealing with the diagnosis. Uncertainty of the condition’s progression might make planning for the future difficult and overwhelming. However, some things can be organised before it gets more complicated.
Understand Dementia and Set Goals
Know the specifics of the diagnosis. Every individual is different and has various needs, especially when it comes to communication. Find out the appropriate care plan for your loved one and how to manage their ever-changing behaviours.
The vast amount of information online might be overwhelming, but the key things to understand are: stages of dementia, common caregiving issues, treatments or medications, and potential lifestyle practices that might help slow the progression of dementia.
Some suggest that your love one should stick to a daily routine to avoid confusion and agitation. When planning a routine, understand how your loved one used to structure his/her day and try to use that as a guide. However, allot ample time for meals, bathing and dressing. It is also important to be aware that the routine changes as dementia progresses.
Remember that being diagnosed with dementia does not mean that your loved one needs to stop his/her favourite activity. You just have to adapt it accordingly.
Discuss Care and Services
The first call of action is to have a family meeting. Discuss what has to be done, and the role that each member will play in the care of your loved one. Be realistic with who is able jump on board and contribute to the care. To avoid any miscommunication, set schedules and rules to abide to. Bear in mind that it is important to include your loved one in this discussion.
Finding out more about the services in your community can ease you into the role of caregiving. For example, engage with a Geriatric Care Manager who specialises in senior care. Through her, you can find out how to make your home more dementia-friendly and to help your loved one cope better with the diagnosis.
In addition, dementia-friendly transport services might make your trip to the clinic more convenient.
Settle Legal and Financial Matters
When it comes to health insurance, understand the current coverage and prescription drug plan. Be familiar with what it covers if a hospitalisation or a rehabilitation facility is necessary. If needed, upgrade the health insurance to get the best coverage.
Whilst your loved one is still capable of making his/her own decisions, sort out the big 2: Living Will and Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). It is best to spend time discussing what he/she truly wants. One word of advice – be sensitive, be patient, and involve the whole family.
A word on LPA: it is typically settled before the diagnosis but it can be done after. This is possible if the doctor can certify that your loved one has retained his/her mental capacity.
Take Care of Yourself
It is important to set realistic goals for yourself and to keep an open mind to unexpected changes. Over time, you will learn to be spontaneous and adapt to situations where things don’t go as planned.
If you are finding it hard to cope with the diagnosis, seek help and comfort from support groups like Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) and the Project We Forgot (PWF) community. There will be someone who has gone through the same situation and might offer advice on how to tackle it.
Finally, if there is other essential tips that we missed in this guide, drop a comment at the bottom of the article and share it with us!
Remember you are not alone in this. There’s a whole community out there supporting you.
A medical student based in London, Jaclyn enjoys sharing her knowledge through her articles and poetry. She is a strong advocate for mental health and can lend a great listening ear to anyone in need. During her free time, she works as a freelance writer and blogs about her personal journey through medical school on Instagram (@jacthemedic).