When mild forgetfulness turns into serious memory problems, seniors and their families have to accept the difficult new reality that Alzheimer’s disease may be forever changing their lives. Recognizing dementia early on is key to ensuring that a loved one receives the highest quality of care and can adequately express his or her wishes for the future.
A medical exam is the first step in getting answers. A doctor can run tests to rule out other causes for symptoms such as forgetting the names of family members or important dates. Someone with Alzheimer’s may withdraw from social activities, display rapid mood swings for no discernable reason, display poor judgment, misplace things, and generally become easily confused.
Seniors may feel a range of emotions upon receiving confirmation, from a sense of relief to know what’s wrong to anger that life is taking a different course then the one they had planned. Knowing that they are not alone in confronting the disease provides relief from some of the stress.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that families do not put off difficult conversations about preparing for the future. Eventually, Alzheimer’s progresses to the point of affecting everyday life and incapacitating the ability to make decisions about treatment, management of assets and legal arrangements. Someone with the disease may live for many years after receiving the initial diagnosis – the quality of their life depends greatly on the choices made in the early stages when they make their wishes known and get their affairs in order.
“As the disease progresses, you will need the support of those who know and understand you. Concealing or denying your diagnosis will limit your ability to cope with the challenges ahead,” the Alzheimer’s Association advises on its website www.alz.org. “Putting legal, financial and end-of-life plans in place is one of the most important steps you can take. It allows you to participate in making decisions that help family and friends know your wishes.”
Planning for the future includes:
- Legal Planning (Creating or reviewing legal documents, making legal plans for finances and property, naming someone to make decisions on the senior’s behalf)
- Financial Planning (Identifying the cost of care, reviewing government benefits or long-term care insurance policies, etc.)
- Caregiving Decisions (Determining who will help the senior with everyday tasks)
- End-of-Life Planning (Discussing the senior’s wishes if they become seriously ill, arranging eventual funeral/burial plans, etc.)
These can be very difficult topics to bring up, especially when the senior and his or her family are still feeling overwhelmed by the diagnosis and fearful of what lies ahead. “If you don't have an honest talk about these topics, how will others know and respect your wishes?” the Alzheimer’s Association asks on its website. “Ideally, it's best to express your wishes now while you are able to make decisions for yourself. Addressing your wishes with family members, your care team or a legal professional will ensure that your expressed requests will be followed when appropriate.”
While many family members will take on the caregiver role in their home, Regency Retirement Village offers secure memory care in many of our communities, offering the person with dementia a structured environment and specially trained caregivers working around the clock to maintain seniors’ dignity and comfort. To learn more about Regency Retirement Village, call (615) 598-0245.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers tools on its website for Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer's Navigator® is an online assessment program that helps you create an action plan to meet your specific needs. It also connects you to information, support and local resources. Learn more at https://www.alzheimersnavigator.org/