by Joel Loiacono
Note: Each issue of Dimensions features a contribution from one of the Alzheimer's groups in Washington. This article is reprinted with permission from the Alzheimer's Association - Inland Northwest Chapter, with adaptations from the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California.
Many family members are looking for guideposts to assist them in dealing with this long and often frightening disease. The Alzheimer's Association often hears from families who are seeking answers. Many times, they don't know what questions that they want to ask. The following is a digest of tips that we suggest for addressing the many challenges presented by Alzheimer's disease:
Get a diagnosis. A thorough evaluation insures identification of any reversible causes of dementia and will help you plan effectively for the future. Treatments for some forms of dementia are counter-indicated others.
Plan for your legal and financial future. As the disease progresses, the person with dementia won't be able to make competent legal and financial decisions for him/herself. Many issues are easier and less costly if they are addressed early. Both the caregiver and the person with dementia should have Durable Powers of Attorney (for health and finances) on record. Talk with a financial planner or an attorney about your future financial needs. Don't wait until the need for hospital care or long-term care arises to find out about benefits and application procedures for Medicare or Medicaid.
Educate yourself. It's important to keep yourself informed, given all of the myths about Alzheimer's disease and related dementias and new treatments. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association Chapter for upcoming education events.
Find and use local resources. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association Chapter for more information about local diagnostic centers, adult day health programs, in-home services, and support groups. These services are invaluable for providing coping strategies.
Take care of yourself. You need to be healthy in order to be an effective caregiver. Research shows that caregivers are at a higher risk for depression, lengthier medical illnesses, and social isolation. Respite care, including adult day health programs, in-home care and overnight respite are designed to give breaks to caregivers.
Be creative! Dementia symptoms vary tremendously from person to person. Strategies that work well for one caregiver may not work for another. Tactics that work well one day may not work the next. Try to be flexible. Look for ideas for addressing common behavioral symptoms associated with dementia. Try new approaches. Support groups are ideal places to find new ideas for dealing with challenging situations.
Remember that the Alzheimer's Association has many programs and services that can assist families on their long journey through this heartbreaking disease. Our helplines can provide you with information about local services and provide you with written information about a wide variety of topics.
Alzheimer's Assoc. chapters:
Eastern Washington & N. Idaho (800)-256-6659
Western & Central Washington (800) 848-7097
Oregon (800) 733-0402
S. Idaho (800) 574-1787