Whether a friend or family member has been experiencing symptoms of dementia for a long period or what feels like no time at all, a diagnosis can feel like a real shock for everyone involved. While having a diagnosis can be a positive step when it comes to finding the appropriate help and support for both yourself and your loved one, it is also normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious when you first hear the news. There will no doubt be many different thoughts running through your mind, from important practicalities to emotional concerns for your loved one.
A dementia diagnosis is never an easy thing for anyone to come to terms with, but there are steps that can be taken to help you process the news.
While it can be tempting to think about the diagnosis as little as possible, learning more about dementia has many benefits if you know someone who has recently been diagnosed. Not only can this prepare you for the physical and behavioural changes to expect, but it can also help you find the best ways to care for your loved one. For example, you may spend time researching how to create a safe environment with the right healthcare equipment to make your loved one feel as comfortable and secure as possible.
It’s also worth learning more about dementia itself, as many don’t realise that there are a number of different types. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, there are a number of different types, each with a unique set of symptoms. For example, those with vascular dementia often have difficulties with problem-solving, loss of focus, and slowed thinking, whereas common symptoms of those with frontotemporal dementia include changes in behaviour, personality, and movement. It’s a good idea to research the specific type of dementia your loved one is living with, in order to prepare yourself and provide them with the best care.
Learn the art of patience
One of the most important traits you need when caring for a person with dementia is patience. Dementia can make those living with the condition act in unpredictable ways. This can sometimes include aggressive and aloof behaviour, even in those who were completely different before the diagnosis. This may take you by surprise and can make it easy to lose your patience, so it’s important to prepare for this eventuality.
Taking a step back from the situation and having a moment to compose yourself can really help in these instances. Having a good understanding of what dementia does to the person experiencing it can also be very beneficial, as this can act as a reminder of why they may be behaving this way. Take paranoia, for example, which is a common symptom of dementia. While this can be a challenging behaviour to navigate, try to understand that this is a confusing feeling for your loved one and that if they are lashing out, it is likely because they are scared and uncertain.
Find others in the same boat
When coming to terms with a loved one’s dementia diagnosis, there will likely be a number of questions running through your mind. And for some, you may struggle to get answers when doing research on the condition. This is when the help of others who are going through (or have already been through) the same thing can really be of help. There is no one single experience of dementia, but by chatting to others who have loved ones with the condition you can get some great insight into how different people have coped with the diagnosis.
This can also help you come to terms with the diagnosis emotionally, as well as practically. Many worry that they will not be able to still have fun with their loved one while they’re living with the symptoms. Chatting with people who have been through the experience can be an important reminder that you and your loved one can still enjoy life while they’re living with the condition, even if things may look different from now on.
Remember to have fun
If you’re a carer for your loved one with dementia, you may worry that you won’t have time to really enjoy their company. But making time for fun activities with them along with the rest of your family and/or friends is vital. Not only has social interaction been found to help dementia patients manage their symptoms, but it is important for you to create new happy memories together so you still feel connected to them.
There are plenty of activities for people living with dementia which the whole family can enjoy, ranging from physical activities like swimming to hobbies in the home such as knitting and painting. You may also want to try out some reminiscing activities. Reminiscence therapy has been found to help people focus on the more joyful aspects of their past to give them a more positive outlook. Plus, many people with dementia tend to find it easier to recall things in the distant past than recent events — they may even surprise you with how much they remember in comparison to yourself! A great reminiscing activity is flicking through old family photo albums.
Take care of yourself
Whether you’re going to be their full-time carer or are just looking for ways to help out, taking good care of your loved one will no doubt be one of your main priorities. But make sure you don’t neglect your own mental and physical health in the process. Coming to terms with the diagnosis will no doubt have had an impact on your wellbeing, so it’s important to make sure you are processing the news in a healthy way. You may want to consider therapy sessions to help yourself deal with the news, or at least chat with a support group or family member. You can also find support from others who have been in your shoes online, such as through the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Talking Point.
As well as finding a way to process your emotions, make sure to take the time for small acts of self-care. Whether you prefer face masks, curling up with a good book, or streaming your favourite comfort show, make sure to use this time to decompress and switch off for a while. Take this time to get the rest you need to be a great support for your recently diagnosed loved one.
“Dementia can be an overwhelming diagnosis to come to terms with, so it’s no surprise that many people struggle when they hear that their loved one is living with the condition. But taking the time to learn more about the symptoms can really help when it comes to knowing what to expect and how to prepare.
“A great way to feel more prepared is to invest in the appropriate care products, such as call alarm systems which are perfect for keeping your loved one safe at home. Even finding small ways to prepare can make you feel more in control of the situation, such as buying a dementia-friendly pill organiser or continence care products.”