There are currently more than 5.7 million Americans, including 220,000 Illinois residents, living with dementia. Without any way to prevent, cure, or even slow down the progression of this disease, these numbers are expected to reach 16 million by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is a little more than memory loss. It is a disease that robs a person of their ability to think, function and take care of themselves.
Grappling with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, while dealing with the changes in family dynamics can be a daunting experience. Early detection can help you make informed decisions about the future and focus on living in a way that’s meaningful to you and your loved ones.
Following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the Alzheimer’s Association offers ten steps that help you move forward, when dealing with dementia:
- Get Educated
It is normal to be hesitant or resistant when learning about how the disease will progress and affect your life. However, learning about an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the first step in making important decisions for the future. Remember, you are not alone. Help is available, and the Alzheimer’s Association has a network of people who understand what you are going through.
- Take Time to Process
There’s no “right” way to respond to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Some people experience depression and may want to withdraw and others are comforted by knowing what’s wrong. There is no limit on the length of time someone is “allowed” to grieve. Take time to fully process the diagnosis.
- Explore Medications
Currently, there is no way to cure, prevent, or even slow down the progression of this disease. However, due to the expanding medical research, there are some medications available that may help lessen the symptoms of memory loss and confusion, for a limited time. An early Alzheimer’s diagnosis provides a better chance of benefitting from the treatment.
- Communicate your Wishes
Do you know who you would want to make decisions for you in the event you are no longer able to? Being open with your family and support network about what you want during each stage of the disease can give you peace of mind, reduce the burden on family members and prevent disputes.
- Plan your Financial Future
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can throw a wrench into future plans. Do not delay talking about finances or future care. Take time to make sure your will and estate plans are up-to-date – factoring the disease into your financial plans. Putting financial and legal plans in place now allows you to be as involved in these decisions as you would like to be.
- Enroll in a Clinical Trial
Enrolling in a clinical trial can help accelerate progress and provide researchers with valuable insights into the disease. Participating in a clinical trial can also grant access to medical care at leading healthcare facilities, often free of cost.
- Stay Connected
Not all family and friends live near one another, which can complicate the logistics of long-term care. Following a diagnosis, people living with Alzheimer’s are at their most vulnerable, and it’s important for them to find better ways to stay connected. Keep in touch and make plans for regular communication.
- Find a Community
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis opens up a community of people who understand what you and your family and friends are going through. Sharing a personal journey about the disease and listening to others can offer a sense of relief and support from a collective group of individuals. Through open communication and understanding, you may learn you are not alone in the challenges you experience, and you may find new ways to cope.
- Join the Cause
Joining the Alzheimer’s cause can give a sense of renewed purpose, whether it’s through advocating for policy changes, fundraising for research, raising disease awareness, or volunteering. Taking action empowers you to bring us closer to a world without Alzheimer’s.
- Live you’re Best Life
Alzheimer’s disease can have various effects on individuals. Everyone approaches the disease differently. Some people may want and need to continue working during the early stage of the disease, while others decide to retire immediately. Some plan big vacations, while others long to spend more time at home. Focus on the aspects of your life that give you the most joy and aim to spend your time in the way that’s most meaningful to you.
How to Get in Touch
The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter serves 87 counties across Illinois. Our 24/7 hour helpline can be reached by calling 800-272-3900. The chapter offers a range of education programs and support groups throughout the state as well as care navigation, which involves a series of appointments with a licensed social worker who is specifically trained in issues related to memory loss.
Article Submitted by: Cliodhna Joyce-Daly, Content Production Specialist, Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and services, go to alz.org/Illinois.