When you ask people what living well means to them, you will get an array of answers. For some, it’s about being happy, for others it’s about their health.
But for the family faced with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, it takes on a whole new meaning — living well is vital to delaying the progression of the disease.
It Takes a Team
It is possible for a person with Alzheimer’s and their family to live well. But it requires a team effort implementing different strategies based on the person’s abilities and needs throughout the stages of the disease.
Because the primary care partner, generally a spouse or adult child, must stand beside the individual throughout the disease progression, their well-being often also erodes, if left unchecked. Therefore, a family’s care strategy for a person with Alzheimer’s must include the primary care partner as well.
Adapting these strategies as the disease progresses is essential for the family to remain strong during all stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the first major hurdles of Alzheimer’s caregiving is overcoming the initial emotions, which often lead to depression, and subsequently, both social and emotional isolation. Too often, depression and fear take hold, and the care partners withdraw from family, friends and society.
Isolation accelerates the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Once a person becomes cut off, they start to lose their sense of purpose. Having purpose is critical to living well; whether it’s family, a cause, or a hobby, this purpose is why we get up in the morning.
Out of the Closet
Once an Alzheimer’s patient learns to manage their emotions and realizes they have a disease which is no different than diabetes or breast cancer, they become more comfortable in sharing their diagnosis and talking about it, when appropriate.
However, like cancer or HIV of the past, the general public has many misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease. Some think the person is crazy while others act like it’s contagious. This ignorance can be hard for the care partners to overcome.
But as they share their Alzheimer’s diagnosis, others will come to understand that the person with Alzheimer’s is the same person they have always been. As a result, these friends will often rally around the person, which helps the family maintain the social aspect of living well.
Taking Back Control
The ability to make decisions is important to a person’s individualism. The family, who now understands that a day will come when this won’t be possible, realizes that planning for the future will help protect their long-term wishes.
They start accomplishing this by getting important documents in order. Knowing that all legal, financial, and medical situations will be properly handled when the need arises creates a peace of mind.
Now that things are getting under control, the family looks toward enjoying life. Sure, they will look back at how life used to be, but they are learning to live for today.
Things previously taken for granted are now cherished. Ironically, happiness and newfound purpose are often a result of this process.
A new conviction that people with Alzheimer’s disease can fight back and lead successful lives for years, if not decades, has become a driving force. Knowing that things such as exercise, nutrition, socialization and intellectual stimulation are imperative in delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s motivates the family to incorporate these elements into their daily life.
The family is now prepared to live well with Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you know someone living with Alzheimer’s? Are they living or living well?
Caregiving Requires Compassion and Strength -- For Yourself Too. EmpowHer.com. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
Involving Family & Friends in a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Together In This. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
About the Author: Mike Good is founder of Together in This an online resource helping family members caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Through short, informative articles and easy-to-use tools, such as the Introductory Guide to Alzheimer’s, he helps them take control and have peace-of-mind they are doing the right things.
Reviewed May 18, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith