Individuals with newly diagnosed dementia and their caregivers shouldn't be shy about asking for help. Assistance from friends, family and organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association is one of the most valuable steps a person can take to meet dementia’s challenges. A 2007 review by the Alzheimer's Association reported that interventions aimed at supporting individuals with early-stage dementia, such as

  • support groups,
  • cognitive training,
  • health promotion,
  • driver safety and
  • cultural activities,
resulted in improved daily functioning and independence and maintained cognitive health.

The greatest benefits were derived from combined therapies. Professional counseling can help individuals who are struggling to work through their emotional responses and, later, help develop problem-solving strategies to maintain a sense of control and autonomy. A counselor can also help people decide whom to tell about their condition, how much to tell and when. In addition, grief counseling can be useful for overcoming the profound sense of loss that's common.

Many people with dementia and their families find it helpful to attend support groups where they can share knowledge, fears, experiences and coping strategies and overcome social isolation. A word of caution, however: Although peer support is valuable, people can find it distressing if some group members are at later stages of the disease because it can be an upsetting reminder of what the future might hold. Look for a group designed specifically for people in the early stages of the disease. Ask your doctor for a referral or contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org) to find a group near you. You can also reach out to the national Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center at 1-800-438- 4380 or www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers.

If you can’t find a local group to attend in person—or you're unable to travel—a telephone help line or an Internet support group can be a viable option.

If you live alone, ask friends or family for assistance with tasks you find difficult such as paying bills, performing household chores and cooking. An occupational therapist can set up your home so it's easier to navigate and find items during memory lapses.

Coping successfully with early dementia also involves taking care of your body. Be sure to eat a healthful diet, be physically active, take any medications prescribed by your doctor and get plenty of sleep.

Adapting to changing roles

A dementia diagnosis will undoubtedly affect loved ones, especially a spouse or a partner. Relationship roles change when dementia afflicts one partner. The ill person may no longer be able to handle his or her usual responsibilities around the house, whether that means mowing the lawn, balancing the checkbook or making a cup of coffee. Being able to relinquish unable-to-perform roles and replace them with new ones allows the person to contribute to household tasks and provides a continued sense of structure and achievement.

Taking on too many tasks while caring for someone can become overwhelming, so it's important that caregivers stay healthy and balanced. This will help the caregiver continue to care for his or her loved one with the lowest possible level of strain. Asking a family member or trusted friend to spend time with an ill partner and taking an occasional afternoon off to shop, exercise or simply unwind and relax for a few hours are important steps caregivers can take to maintain their health.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 31 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 31 Jul 2013