If your loved one has been newly diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel like your world has been turned upside down. You may be sad at the thought of cherished memories that will be lost. You may also feel overwhelmed about the progressive nature of dementia symptoms and worried about how to provide the best care for your parent.
Learning about your loved one’s disease and understanding what to expect can help you cope with a dementia diagnosis. It can empower you and your family to make the best decisions about your parent’s care.
Coping with a dementia diagnosis
It can be difficult to accept an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. Sadness, anger, denial, and fear are just a few of the emotions you and your loved one may experience. You may be grieving for your parent — especially if they already have significant memory loss.
Encourage your loved one to talk to you about their feelings honestly. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers and solutions. A listening ear can go a long way in helping your relative feel supported.
A dementia diagnosis also offers you an opportunity to treasure the time you have with your loved one. Cherish the time you have together, and seize opportunities to tell them how much they mean to you. Instead of thinking about the skills your loved one has lost or may lose in the future, try to focus on what your loved one can still do.
Dementia progression: What to expect
Dementia is classified in seven stages with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Most people can function independently during the early stages. Your loved one will likely still be able to drive, attend social events, and live on their own.
However, the most common types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are progressive. This means symptoms worsen over time. As your parent’s disease progresses, they’ll need more support with daily activities. Dementia progression also comes with difficult behaviors, such as aggression, agitation, wandering, and sleep problems.
People with late-stage dementia require 24-hour supervision and care. They lose their ability to communicate coherently and often need assistance with bathing, dressing, feeding, walking, and using the bathroom.
Dementia life expectancy
Alzheimer’s and dementia progression varies widely. Some people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia may live between three to 11 years after diagnosis, while others live 20 years or more.
The severity of your loved one’s dementia will affect their life expectancy after a dementia diagnosis. Common causes of death in people with dementia include pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition, falls, and other infections.
10 steps to take if your loved one has been newly diagnosed with dementia
You can’t change your loved one’s diagnosis, but there are things you can do to help them cope and stay healthy and safe for as long as possible.
- Learn about your loved one’s disease. Understanding what to expect can help you feel more confident and empowered to create a dementia care plan that fits your loved one’s needs and improves their quality of life.
- Seek medical treatment. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, but medications are available to help treat symptoms. Some drugs can help prevent the breakdown of connections between the brain cells responsible for memory, thinking, language, and judgment. Others prevent further damage to brain cells. Stay in close contact with your loved one’s doctor to discuss the right treatment for their disease.
- Make everyday tasks easier. Help your parent stay independent as long as possible by creating an easy-to-follow routine, setting up reminder tools for appointments and medications, and using meal services if they need help with cooking.
- Find caregiving support. You’re not alone. Joining a support group online or in person can help you find information, advice, encouragement, and connection with others who are sharing your experiences.
- Offer emotional support. It takes time to come to terms with a dementia diagnosis. Make time to listen to your loved one’s feelings and concerns. If your parent has been sad or depressed for several weeks after their dementia diagnosis, it’s important to seek medical care. Depression is a treatable symptom of dementia. If it seems like your loved one is in denial, talk to their doctor. Anosognosia, a condition that often affects people with dementia, impairs their ability to understand they’re ill.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet and active lifestyle can help prevent and minimize some dementia symptoms. Avoid caffeine and sugar, as they can increase agitation and aggravate sleep problems. Encourage your loved one to stay physically active to keep joints and muscles in shape.
- Make home a safe place. Assess your loved one’s home for safety. Remove potential fall hazards, such as rugs and electrical cords. Be sure fire and carbon monoxide alarms are installed and working. Use technology to help you stay connected and keep track of your loved one’s whereabouts.
- Assess safety on the road. Is your loved one getting lost on familiar routes? Do they seem confused or have trouble following instructions? Drivers can lose focus as their cognitive function declines. Keep an eye on possible signs it’s time to stop driving.
- Organize financial and legal matters. Encourage your loved one to organize legal and financial documents. Important documents — such as a list of bank accounts, tax returns, and vehicle titles — should be stored for easy access. This is a good time to prepare or update a will, living will, and financial and medical power of attorney. It may also be helpful to learn about the care your loved one may need in the future and how to pay for it. An elder law attorney or certified financial planner can help you and your loved one plan for essential legal and financial matters.
- Plan for the future. Your loved one will increasingly need more help. Establish support networks early on so they’re available to you as your parent’s disease progresses. Get help from other family members, look for home care or respite care, or learn about memory care communities, which offer around-the-clock supervision and care for seniors with dementia or other forms of memory loss.
Contact our Senior Living Advisors (SLAs) for free support when planning for future dementia care. Our local SLAs are experts in memory care and senior living communities in your area. They will learn about your family’s unique needs to help you determine the right type of care for your loved one.