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.
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.
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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at A Place for Mom. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.