You Received an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis – What’s Next?
No one wants a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s becoming increasingly common. This year, one in every 9 adults age 65 and up has the disease, which means that if you (or someone you love) are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you’re not alone. As with any progressive disease diagnosis, you’ll need to take some time to process the news, think about how to proceed, and build a support network to help you cope with the challenges you’ll face.
Give yourself time to absorb the news
Right after a diagnosis, you may feel a range of emotions, from fear and anger to disbelief and maybe even relief that someone has put a name to your symptoms. You may need time alone, but try not to isolate yourself over the long run. Your doctor may be able to recommend local groups or counselors who specialize in dementia issues. He or she may also have suggestions about how to tell your family and friends about your condition.
Other helpful resources for newly diagnosed people are
What Happens Next? – a free, downloadable booklet from the National Institute on Aging written by people living with early-stage dementia
Living with Alzheimer’s – a free, printable workbook from the Alzheimer’s Association to help manage and plan daily life after your diagnosis
Talk to your doctor
After you’re diagnosed, make a habit of writing down questions for your doctor as you think of them to bring to your next visit. It’s OK to ask the same question more than once, and it’s a good idea to bring along a friend or family member to take notes if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Be honest with your doctor about your symptoms and changes you’ve noticed. That information is the key to an effective treatment plan.
Expand your support network
Besides your doctor and close family and friends, you have other options for support. Your local senior center or community center may host support groups for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association chapter closest to you may run in-person groups, and the AlzConnected online forum offers discussion groups for caregivers and people with dementia.
You may also want to check in with your clergy member and find a therapist who understands the challenges people with dementia face. If cost is a barrier to getting help, ask your local area agency on aging if free or sliding-scale counseling is available in your community.
Take good care of yourself
Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can bring on a lot of stress, and it’s important to counteract that with activities that help you feel better and let you focus on something unrelated to your health issues. Yoga, tai chi, walking and other low-impact forms of exercise can lower your stress level while boosting your health.
Feed yourself well. WebMD says that eating lots of fruit, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty-acid rich fish may have a protective effect on brain cells. Now is a good time to explore the Mediterranean diet, which is also a good choice for protecting your heart health and for losing (or at least not gaining) excess weight.
Make time to do the things you want to do and to spend time with people you care about. Staying socially connected can help you remain positive and emotionally healthy. If you feel worry or anxiety that doesn’t lift within a few weeks of your diagnosis – or if your feelings overwhelm your ability to function – ask for help, and remember that you’re not alone in living with Alzheimer’s.