You’ve just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or, perhaps, someone close to you has been diagnosed, and you’re wondering what to do next. First, you should know that you’re not alone. In the U.S., more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. Also, there are various ways you can continue to experience a good quality of life with Alzheimer’s, by informing yourself and making some basic changes to day-to-day living.
The benefits of learning about Alzheimer’s
Getting educated about Alzheimer’s is the key first step. It’s important to know the types of signs and symptoms you may experience, and how you or your loved one can cope with them. While you may be experiencing negative emotions about your diagnosis, educating yourself can help you deal with them. Understanding the disease may help you connect to your emotions and identity as well as imparting confidence for decision-making about living and planning for your future. It may not be easy at times, so you should go at your own pace, and share your thoughts and feelings with people close to you.
Here are some ways that learning about Alzheimer’s can help you cope with your diagnosis:
- Become empowered to focus on your priorities in life, and take action to bring some of your goals to fruition
- Take an active role in your legal, financial and long-term care plans
- Inform your friends, family and professional circles about your diagnosis, and guide them to inform themselves about Alzheimer’s so as to reduce the stigma
- Talk with your doctor about current treatments and medications
- Learn coping strategies for the symptoms you may experience
- Actively help manage your disease in collaboration with your caregivers
Make a coping strategy
Sometimes people with early-stage Alzheimer’s are reluctant to ask for help, but it’s important to set up strategies for meeting the potential challenges ahead. Acceptance of the diagnosis and the changes that are happening to you is key. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to remain active and engaged, be able to maximize your independence, and have a sense of control over your life. Bear in mind that not every strategy works for each individual, so allow yourself to be flexible:
- Make a list of tasks that have become harder to do, then focus on developing ways to accomplish them, such as setting reminders
- Prioritize tasks and seek help with the ones that are too much to do alone
- Strategize to simplify — for example, cook with a crockpot or focus on one-skillet meals with limited ingredients
Each day is a new opportunity to cope better. Develop a daily routine, with realistic goals. Remind yourself that you have more than one opportunity to meet a challenge. Acknowledge what triggers can cause stress, and call on your strengths, be they friends, family, pets, spirituality and your own grit — to meet potential difficulties head on.
Taking care of yourself
Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly are just as important now as they were before you received your Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Another key element of taking care of yourself should include attending to your emotional wellbeing. Some of the emotional upset you may feel is caused by the changes the disease makes to the brain, while others can arise from your frustration with daily changes or problems with friends and loved ones who may also be having difficulty adjusting emotionally to what is happening to you.
There’s no wrong way to feel. Let yourself experience your emotions and try not to judge whether they’re “good” or “bad,” or let other people judge them. Seek help from trusted friends and advisors, and consider joining a support group as early as possible in order to surround yourself with people who are on a similar journey. Having a social network that includes others in the early stage of Alzheimer’s can be a help, too. The Alzheimer’s Association offers some resources.
The more active you become in advocating for yourself, the better. It’s important to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease, make a comprehensive plan, and take early and ample advantage of the various kinds of help and coping support available in your community.