Coping with a Diagnosis of Dementia

by Nicole Kehoe | Posted on November 3rd, 2017

It is likely that at some point in your life, you know someone who has been diagnosed with a Dementia-related disease.  Maybe you have witnessed, or have experienced yourself, what a life-altering event this can be for individuals and their loved ones.  It can create a great deal of fear surrounding the future as symptoms begin to affect daily life more profoundly.  The Alzheimer’s Association defines Dementia as, “…an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.”

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form, but there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of Dementia.  Common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty with language expression, changes in mood, confusion, and personality changes.  Early diagnosis and intervention can be extremely helpful in managing the symptoms, so solid medical care is vital.  In addition, affected persons and their loved ones can benefit from utilizing coping skills to help ease anxiety that can come from day to day living as symptoms progress.

The following are some things to think about if you or someone you know is living in the early stages of Dementia.

  • It can be helpful to utilize memory aides to compensate for forgetfulness. These include using a daily calendar, sticky notes, pill boxes to keep medication straight, and to-do lists.  Technology can be helpful for memory, as well.  Setting alarms on a phone or other device can serve as reminders to complete tasks. Organizing the home environment and following a predictable routine can help decrease confusion.

  • Developing awareness of community resources is an important piece to coping with Dementia. This might be in the form of support groups, informational meetings, and financial planning services.  Acquiring knowledge about home health and assisted living options in the community can aide in planning for the future as well.

  • It is important to get regular exercise. This is a common recommendation among health professionals and researchers. It can improve cognitive functioning in early stages of Dementia and have positive effects on emotional health as well.

  • Create a life story. Writing about significant life events, interests, and personality traits can be a positive experience for both affected individuals and loved ones. As symptoms of the disease progress and personality/mood changes occur, a life story can serve as a reminder of strengths and memories to draw upon to help decrease emotional/cognitive effects of Dementia.

  • Stay involved in hobbies and interests. This not only decreases isolation and keeps the brain working, but it can serve to keep individuals involved in things that represent them as human beings. This is vitally important as personality changes begin to occur.

  • In early stages of Dementia, it can be common for people to experience times of anxiety and emotional distress. It is helpful to utilize relaxation tools. Deep breathing, meditation, speaking positive things to self, and music are all ways to decrease distress in the moment.  It can also be a good idea to look at what may have triggered the distress and talk it through with someone. The value a person receives from positive emotional support in life is unmeasurable.

  • There are many emotional experiences that people can experience in the early stages of Dementia – fear, sadness, grief, hopelessness, despair, to name a few. Sometimes, it can be helpful for affected persons, including loved ones, to seek mental health services.  Research supports psychotherapy as a treatment option to help people talk through the emotions they are experiencing and find ways to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression that can accompany the disease process.  It can also be helpful for caregivers and loved ones to talk to a professional about their experiences to improve overall emotional/mental health.

Lutheran Family Service provides outreach designed to increase understanding of Dementia and support caregivers, equipping them with information and resources to provide care that honors both their relative and themselves. Contact us today for more information on the services we offer, or to schedule an appointment with a therapist.

Nicole Kehoe, LISW

Outpatient individual, couples, and family therapist serving the Des Moines area