Staying Active after being Diagnosed with Early Dementia

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After receiving a diagnosis of dementia, it may take time to understand and learn about the disease. It is generally shocking and very difficult for individuals, their friends and loved ones to accept the diagnosis. It is not unusual for a period of denial to occur. However, it is important for the individual, their loved ones and friends to receive education so they can gain an understanding of possible limitations, what the needs for support are, current health requirements, and what warning signs to watch for that may indicate a further decline in health and cognitive ability.

               A person with dementia should be encouraged to remain active even if adjustments may need to be made in their lives.  The diagnosis of dementia should not imply that the individual should become inactive or give up on living. There are a number of areas to encourage, focus on, modify and reinforce.

  1. It is very important to maintain your health after receiving a dementia diagnosis. This includes taking medications, attending regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments and monitoring key vital signs, including blood pressure, glucose levels, heart rate and blood pressure. Certain medications may be considered for some individuals with early dementia. These medications may improve cognition and delay progression of the disease, but they are not in any way a cure.
  2. It is helpful to receive a full neuropsychology assessment to establish a baseline, and identify both strengths and limitations.
  3. You may be interested in investigating research studies at universities and doing ongoing research, joining individual support groups for both the caretaker and dementia patient
  4. Exercise and a healthy diet are an important part of self-care. Regular activity and eating well is important for managing weight and blood pressure, and maintaining coordination. Consult your doctor for recommended exercise and diet programs.
  5. Socialization is an important part of life that should be incorporated for both the patient and loved ones. It is important to determine which activities are comfortable for the individual.
  6. Cognitive skills and activities should be incorporated into daily life. This may include puzzles, artwork - including using coloring books of varying complexities, word search games, etc. Activities may need to vary based on the type and degree of memory deficits. Some individuals may continue participating in favorite hobbies, home responsibilities and various work functions as able.
  7. Art is highly recommended for all dementia patients. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “art projects can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Thy can provide the person with dementia, as well as the caregiver, an opportunity for self-expression.” It is important to plan all projects so that they are perceived as mature and not childlike, even if you assist with the project. When using a more simplified art project explain that it is a way to begin or reintroduce an activity. Normalize the more simplified activity by participating and, if needed, explaining that many adults participates in this level of activity. If the individual is confused or makes unsafe decisions, you may need to repeat instructions and make sure that all products and tools are safe. There are a number of programs provided at local art centers including Main Line Art (mainlineart.org) and by the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org).
  8. Music is another wonderful activity for the individuals with dementia and their caretakers. Studies show that “music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues” which may be experienced at each level of dementia. Many dementia patients remember familiar songs from their childhood, those enjoyed as adults, and religious songs.
  9. Voting and other key decision-making are issues that concern caretakers. Don’t assume that individuals diagnosed with dementia can’t make their own decisions. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “there is no valid test to determine when a person reaches the point of incapacity to vote.” Since it is not legal to have a proxy cast a vote for another person, if the voter understands what they are doing and understands the implication of their decision, then it is appropriate for him to vote according to Joseph H. Karlawish, M.D. professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy and neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. This decision making protocol can be used for other key decisions as well, including planning for future housing and caretaking needs.
  10. It is also a time for planning. The individual and loved ones should discuss future and present care needs, future and present living arrangements, and review or write a will and a living will.

The diagnosis of early dementia involved education, planning, reinforcement and monitoring. It is also an opportunity to learn about the individual’s wishes for many key areas in her life.