Most people have heard the term dementia but don’t have a personal experience with it. Often the term is interchanged with Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer's disease is just one type of dementia that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. There are many types of dementia ranging from Parkinson’s disease to vascular dementia to Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB). The term dementia is used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with cognitive change including memory loss, impaired judgment, difficulty speaking and mood changes such as depression. Dementia may cause a person's ability to perform day-to-day activities to become challenging over time. But there is hope that the challenges can be lessened by creating the right supportive and adaptive environment.
What can I do following a diagnosis of dementia?
It’s life changing to receive a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions. This experience will help you and your loved ones move forward to discover new ways to live a positive and fulfilling life. There are support groups and professionals to help cope with the diagnosis. Here are some tips to think about as you begin your new journey:
- Keep a list of questions for your doctor. See your healthcare professional regularly for checkups and ask lots of questions.
- Sleep 7+ hours a night. It’s normal to feel anxious and worried, but try to get plenty of sleep to help regulate serotonin and other brain-nurturing chemicals.
- Keep doing what you love. If you love playing music, games, sports, cooking, gardening and other activities, don’t stop. As time passes, you may need to make modifications to your lifestyle, but continue to do the things you love as long as you find joy in them.
- Stay connected. Surround yourself with family and friends and talk with them about your changing needs. Engage in your community, and join new social groups to foster friendships.
- Share your feelings. It’s okay to be open with your emotions. Anger and sadness at times may feel overwhelming, but don’t forget to appreciate the many emotions you will experience on this journey. Experiencing love, happiness and empathy continue to be possible. Don’t shut out the people in your life; let them know how you feel. You may be surprised by how supportive friends and family can be.
- Create an adaptive environment. Write down your schedule, make to-do lists, stick to your routine, use familiar routes and keep important phone numbers close by. Remembering every appointment and every medication is hard for anyone. Use lists and reminders to help take stress off your shoulders.
What is an adaptive environment?
An adaptive environment is one that takes into consideration the changes a person is experiencing. For example, changes in vision and depth perception can be dangerous. Remove area rugs and flooring with patterns to help better maneuver surroundings. Other home modifications can include stove sensors that automatically turn off burners and ovens in the case of inadvertently leaving them on.
Adapting an environment to specific needs can help promote independence. Using technologies to set reminders and manage medication can help people feel in control of their lives. Technologies such as GPS trackers can also provide comfort to those who are concerned about their loved one wandering and getting lost.
One of the most important things to think about in the design of an adaptive environment is simplification. Simplifying the process of daily activities, such as keeping a toothbrush within reach of the sink or making sure a phone charger is in an easy-to-reach location. The easier it is to complete tasks with minimal assistance the less likely a person will feel agitated. There are many products coming out each day that are designed with this in mind. Click here to see some innovative technologies that can help simplify your home and improve independence.
What is dementia care?
As a person progresses along their journey, help may be required. Many family members want to take care of their loved one at home. Providing emotional and physical support to a person living with dementia can be exhausting for family caregivers. Burnout is very real and can be threatening to one’s health. Know your options and whom you can trust for help. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource and offers 24 hour support 365 days a year. Call 800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org.
Make sure to do research in your local area. At some point you may need additional day support, evening support and even long-term care. Adult day centers are a great place for loved ones to attend Monday through Friday, especially for family care providers who are still working, or those who just need to get tasks done during business hours. Home support by professional caregivers will also provide much needed relief. Take advantage when you can.
Know your long-term care options. Skilled nursing homes and assisted living communities with specialized programs to support those living with dementia are both options for those needing 24-hour care in a safe and supportive setting.