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Learning to Live With an Alzheimer's Diagnosis
Even with an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, you're still you. Learn why keeping a smile on your face can help make coming to terms with the news an easier process.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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When you first receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, it can feel like the world is slipping away from you. It can be hard to move at all, much less stay positive and start making the future plans that will make the later stages of the disease easier both for you and those around you.
In the long run, however, most people find that the best thing to do with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is to stay as proactive as possible, and to try to keep a sense of humor, especially when they're having a bad day. "You're going to have good days and bad days," says Richard Powers, MD, associate professor of neurology and pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and spokesman for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. "If you're having a bad day, just hold on, because a good day will come along soon.”
Alzheimer’s: Pointers for the Newly Diagnosed
People who are newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's often are not yet severely affected by the disease, and still have many of their cognitive and memory capabilities. "There is a misunderstanding that most people with dementia don't know they have dementia, or don't know that anything's wrong with them," Dr. Powers says. "Some people don't. They've lost insight. But if you grasp that something is wrong with you, then you have a lot of say in your own future and your current life.”
Powers says there are a number of things that can help a newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patient deal with the news. He suggests keeping the following points in mind:
- You’re still you.While it might be difficult to wrap your head around a diagnosis as difficult as Alzheimer's, reminding yourself that you are the same person you were before Alzheimer’s appeared in your life is a good way to put things into perspective. The disease has not changed who you are, and your personal strength and devotion cannot be erased by any type of disease, including dementia.
- There's no need to feel embarrassed.You should not be embarrassed or ashamed by your diagnosis. Not only are memory problems common as people get older, but Alzheimer's disease is one of the most widely diagnosed forms of dementia in the United States. You are not alone.
- You aren't going crazy.Instead of looking at Alzheimer's as a disease that makes you crazy, look at it as a disease that affects memory and thought. You'll do things to protect yourself against its complications in the same way that folks with other diseases do. People with heart disease might try to eat better and watch their exertion; you can establish methods of staying healthy too, such as keeping to a routine medication schedule or taking measures to prevent misplacing important items.
- Don’t predict the future.Alzheimer's never follows the same path — it affects each person differently. No one knows whether you will get worse or not, so there's no sense in trying to hash out every event that might occur as a result of your disease. Instead, prepare in the best way that you know how and accept that the help you need will come as it's needed.
- Be a fighter.You will receive love and support from family and friends, but you need to be an active participant in this fight. Taking measures to stay positive and keep an eye on the bright side, even during dark days, can make living with Alzheimer's — or any chronic disease — more manageable.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Take Time to Enjoy Life
It can be hard to think about enjoying life again after an Alzheimer's diagnosis, especially just after you receive the news, but it is vital to make time for activities you can still take pleasure in. They can be as grand as touring the world with a spouse or friend at your side, or as simple as taking daily walks through a favorite park, playing a game you've always loved, or enjoying a food you especially like. In all those examples, you are asserting who you are by taking delight in things you've always loved doing. Such activities also can give you a break from the dread and frustration you might feel in making plans for the future.
"It's very individual, depending on the person," says Allen Levey, MD, chair of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory Center for Neurodegenerative Disease and the Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Atlanta. "You may have a brain disease, but you are still yourself and there's no reason you can't participate in things you like to participate in.”
Though being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can be a very difficult thing to take in and adjust to, knowing that this is not the end of life as you've known it can make a big difference in how well you cope. Remember, you can (and should) still be active and involved. And be sure to take the time to stop and smell the roses; you and your loved ones will be glad you did.
Video: How Do You Know If You Have Alzheimer Disease
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