Diagnosed with Dementia: Next Steps

Dementia is a serious diagnosis. It is a chronic, progressive illness that affects every aspect of a person’s life. It is important to get a second opinion. A thorough evaluation is essential to eliminate other possible causes of confusion, word-finding difficulties, personality changes, getting lost, inability to complete every day responsibilities, or other signs of dementia.

The neurologist is the medical expert in brain diseases. They will identify any reversible causes of the changes; or if they confirm the diagnosis, they can identify the type of dementia. The common forms of dementia (Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Frontal Temporal Dementia and Lewy Body Disease) each have a unique set of symptoms and different trajectories. Only with an evaluation by a specialist – including history-taking, a physical exam, lab tests, brain scans and neuropsychological tests – can an accurate diagnosis be made. The truth of a diagnosis is your friend, and this truth will guide you in making the best decisions for your future. Expect this process to take a few weeks.

The person with dementia should be told their diagnosis so they can participate in legal and financial planning. An elder care lawyer helps them plan for their own future and make decisions for their future self while they still have capacity. There will come a time that the person with dementia will no longer be able to make health care decisions for themselves. 75% of people with dementia will need the type of care and supervision that is mostly found in nursing homes. Planning for long term care is essential.
A dementia diagnosis is life changing for the family as well as the person with the disease. As the disease progresses, families typically provide care 3-6 hours a day or more. A geriatric care manager is an expert in helping people with dementia and their families discuss difficult topics and face complex issues. They help make short and long term plans, coordinate medical services, evaluate in-home needs and alternative living arrangements. They can provide emotional support and reduce caregiver stress.
With this team in place, the person with dementia and their family will know what to expect and understand their options. And, with ongoing, expert support, they do not have to face the future alone.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Malka Young, LICSW, C-ASWCM, Director of Allies in Aging, 800-655-9553 or help4elders@jfsmw.org. Allies in Aging is a program of JFS of Metrowest in Framingham.