Ways & How

how to cope with dementia

how to cope with dementia

One of life’s hardest questions may be how to cope with dementia when a person is diagnosed with it. We have this mistaken notion that such a diagnosis is an instant curtain of gloom over all our lives, as if the world as we know it suddenly stops and stays so. But dementia is not the death sentence. We are all going to die, anyway. Dementia is a prediction of how things will go towards the end. Dementia will give us ample time for preparation and productive use of remaining years. And, if we allow it, dementia could even deepen our lives more than deplete it. Dementia affects not only the person diagnosed with it, but also his family and his caregiver, particularly if the latter is a family member. Each will have to devise his or her own way of coping. The following may help. The patient. If the diagnosis was made early enough, the person will likely have a number of years to work through the grieving process and finally come to terms with it. There will be denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. Through it all, there will be unremitting questions.

Having an early diagnosis will be helpful, allowing the person time and opportunities to process his thoughts and emotions regarding his condition and properly prepare for it.

  1. Properly care for himself. Learning about the condition, what to expect, and instituting ways to maximize the remaining productive years will be very helpful in giving him the tools he needs to adapt. If the diagnosis is made early enough, the person can turn a dismal prognosis into a triumphant, if tragic, one. Some people have used their diagnosis as a springboard for a book, an advocacy, a platform for awareness of the disease. If the diagnosis is made somewhat late and the person is already manifesting some symptoms such as some memory loss, there may still be some coping actions to take. Writing down the names of people, things around the house, preparing a routine schedule, labeling stuff – all these strategies will give the person a coping mechanism that will enable him to have some semblance of control for a while longer.

  2. Participate while he can. The patient can and should continue to participate in a pleasurable pastime or hobby, as long as these are safe for him. Joining a support group would be very beneficial for his psychological well being and provide him with the kinship and understanding he needs to carry on.

  3. Plan for the future. If the person still has the capacity, he should waste no time in putting his affairs in order to avoid legal implications later. He may also need to make arrangements for his care and who should decide on his behalf when his condition worsens. This may be one of the hardest things to face in coping with dementia, but it is a very important one and should not be left for later.

Family members and caregivers. Family members of people diagnosed with dementia are perhaps harder hit than the patient, especially when the disease has worsened to the point where the loved one loses his identity and sense of self. It is painful to see a loved one become an estranged shell of what he once was. When added to the normal stresses of daily life, having and caring for someone with dementia can be a huge burden to carry. Family members and caregivers should therefore develop their own ways to cope while ensuring that their own needs are not neglected over the patient’s.
  1. Process your feelings. You are allowed to have feelings about this situation, too. While the patient must go through his own grieving process, you do not need to deny your own; you have your own grieving to do. Some people feel that they need to “hide” their feelings from the patients, but bottling up emotions will only make them reappear in other forms. Family members are just as likely to go into depression. Recognizing this will enable you to seek the help you need. You are better able to take care of others if you yourself are healthy and well.

  2. Prop up the patient. In the early stages, this may come by way of supporting the patient’s need to keep some degree of control over his affairs, choosing his care and making decisions for himself. As much as possible, boost his efforts at maintaining his independence as long as he is not harmful to himself or others. Later, you will need to literally prop him up: physically caring for his daily functions that he can no longer do by himself, such as eating, hygiene, taking medication, etc. Keep physically close, speak slowly in a low voice, maintain eye contact – these are some ways you can prop up the patient and maintain his remaining connection to the world.

  3. Prepare for the journey. This will be a long and arduous experience, laced with exhaustion and sorrow. You may need to enlist the help of other caregivers to allow respite, and eventually you may have to consider professional care that’s better equipped to handle the demands of the patient's condition. Aside from the psychological and financial implications, there may be social and legal consequences as well. Prepare for it so you are adequately equipped.

Sometimes the worst burdens can turn into blessings if we have the inner strength to make the best of what life hands us, and to grow in the process. There is nothing more difficult than facing the question of how to cope with dementia, but we can face it with courage and spiritual fortitude.


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