An estimated one in three Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. That translates to millions of Americans living with a dementia diagnosis, and many more millions of family caregivers providing support to them.
When your parent is diagnosed with dementia, it can be devastating for both of you. What should you do? What steps should you take to make sure that your parent has the care and support he or she needs?
Consider these four critical steps you and your family should take when an older loved one gets a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia disorder.
1. The Right Diagnosis
Work with your loved one’s doctor to rule out treatable causes of cognitive loss. Some forms of dementia aren’t caused by neurological deterioration. They could be side effects of other physical ailments like heart disease, brain masses, or intracranial bleeds. A severe urinary tract infection can cause dementia-like symptoms. Review all medications with the primary care physician. Over-medication or drug interactions from prescription regimens that aren’t coordinated could trigger memory loss. In such cases, treatment of the underlying causes might alleviate dementia symptoms.
Your parent’s doctor will likely order blood work and scans to rule out primary causes. If the doctor suspects that adverse drug interactions have caused your parent’s dementia-like symptoms, they will revise the medication regimen. You may be asked to help monitor your parent’s medication compliance and to log symptoms to help the doctor reach a definitive diagnosis. Often dementia symptoms have no discernible cause and supportive care is the best option.
2. Ask Questions, Get Support
Your parent will need a lot of understanding and support. Eventually, he or she will need caregiving from a family member, in-home care providers or a residential memory care home.
Your parent will become increasingly reliant on you to make informed healthcare decisions. You should begin learning as much as you can about dementia caregiving so that you’ll be ready to make the right choices for your parent.
You might consider joining a dementia caregiver support group. There are several here in Cincinnati, including the group that meets monthly here in Hyde Park. It may be helpful to network with other caregivers and be mutually supportive.
The Alzheimer’s Association — Greater Cincinnati Chapter and the Council on Aging can connect you with learning opportunities, support groups, and other resources. Discuss what you learn, especially online with your parent’s doctor.
3. Make financial, legal and medical arrangements
If your parent’s dementia hasn’t yet progressed to the point that he or she is debilitated, make sure you work with him or her to develop a care plan.
Now is the time for your parent to choose a residential retirement care provider, to designate his or her medical, legal and financial powers of attorney, and to complete a living will or advance care directive. If your parent has specific ideas for the dispensation of assets, those should be spelled out in legal documentation while he or she can still direct.
4. Plan for additional support or possible move
Dementia symptoms may progress slowly but rapidly worsen. It may not be safe for your parent to continue living alone. If you or one of your siblings is willing to provide daily care, it may be time to move your parent into a family caregiver’s home, or hire a live-in care partner.
Or, your parent might be interested in moving into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), which can provide everything from assisted independent living and memory support therapy to advanced round-the-clock nursing care.
A CCRC can provide your parent a way to socialize with other seniors and live as independently as possible, for as long as possible. They can engage in enriching activities, and you and your family will have peace of mind. You will know that your parent is being closely looked after.
A dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis isn’t an end. It’s a beginning.
To be sure, it’s the beginning to a challenging chapter. But, by taking these four steps to set affairs in order and arrange for memory care, you and your parent can alleviate some of the worry and focus on enjoying the time you have together.