Living with Alzheimer's disease
Efforts in the early part of the disease can make the later stages easier.
If you've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, you already know you're facing changes and challenges. But even though you can't alter the course of the disease, you can prepare for the adjustments to come.
A healthy body, a strong support system, realistic expectations and good planning all can help improve quality of life for you and your loved ones in the years to come.
"Staying healthy for someone with Alzheimer's disease is not any different than staying healthy for other people," says William Thies, PhD, Senior Scientist in Residence, Medical and Scientific Relations, for the Alzheimer's Association. "A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to get the best medical care you can."
Regular exams, treatment for problems such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and a healthful lifestyle remain vital. Regular exercise, a low-fat, high-vegetable diet and a healthy weight are all good goals.
Though the rules of good health don't change because of Alzheimer's, the disease does raise some special issues. Many people with Alzheimer's have trouble sleeping at night, Dr. Thies says, so you may want to avoid daytime sleep and create a good sleeping environment.
The memory loss that comes with Alzheimer's can create new safety hazards too, such as kitchen fires if cooking is left unattended or getting lost during a walk. Preparing for these hazards and taking steps to protect yourself can help you stay healthy.
Make an effort to build a good working relationship with your doctor. You and your doctor will have to work together closely to manage Alzheimer's.
Handling your feelings
According to the Alzheimer's Association, common emotions after a diagnosis include:
- Loss of your old self-image.
Coping with symptoms
As Alzheimer's progresses, familiar activities and tasks will become more difficult. The Alzheimer's Association offers these tips for making life easier:
- Reserve difficult tasks for the time of day when you usually feel best.
- Take your time. Don't let others rush you.
- If a task feels too hard, take a break.
- If you're having trouble with a conversation, ask the person to speak slowly, repeat what was said, or write down words you don't understand.
- To help with memory loss, post a schedule of daily activities, such as mealtimes, exercise, medication schedules and bedtime.
- Arrange for reminders or phone calls from other people when you have appointments.
- Post important phone numbers next to the phone.
- Keep a book of important information, such as people's names, thoughts and ideas you want to remember, your address, and directions to your house.
- Place reminders around the house to turn off appliances and lock doors.
Planning your future
In the years after diagnosis, many healthcare, financial and legal decisions will have to be made. Consider the following topics for discussion:
Power of attorney for healthcare. This gives someone else the legal authority to make decisions about your healthcare when you're no longer able to. Talk to the person you've chosen about what kind of care you want in the event of injury or illness or if questions of life support ever arise. Also talk about what kind of care facility you want if one becomes necessary.
Finances. Include a trusted family member or friend and a financial adviser in this conversation, the Alzheimer's Association recommends. You'll want to consider your potential healthcare costs and sources of income, available financial assistance and what to do with remaining assets.
Safety issues. Decide ahead of time which symptoms will signal the time for you to stop driving or taking public transportation alone. This saves your family from making difficult decisions on their own later on.
Research continues on ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer's. In the meantime, loved ones, healthcare professionals and organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association can help you meet the challenges of the disease.