Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease that impacts the health and quality of life of almost 6 million Americans. That number is projected to more than double by the year 2050. It destroys cognitive function, causing struggles in daily life with learning and maintaining memory. People with Alzheimer’s experience symptoms and struggles that get progressively worse, but they can live with the condition for several years. In this guide, we’ll look at 5 essential steps to help cope with Alzheimer’s disease.
The impact of Alzheimer’s disease
Let’s look at how this disease affects us here in the United States:
- 81% of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of 75.
- It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
- 1 in 3 seniors die from Alzheimer’s.
- Every 65 seconds someone develops the disease.
- More than 16 million people provide unpaid care to someone with the disease.
Thanks to advancements in medical research and technology, we’re living longer. But there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this time. That means that as we continue to live longer and the population continues to grow, more of us are at risk for developing the disease. In fact, over 12 million people aged 85 and older will be at the highest risk from now until 2050.
Living with Alzheimer’s disease
Living with an illness that has a massive impact like Alzheimer’s disease is certainly challenging. There are multiple answers to the concerns regarding what causes dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
One factor that warrants more of our attention, however, is that these conditions progressively worsen over time. A loved one with Alzheimer’s disease wants to be able to live their lives as they did before they began this struggle. To maximize her independence, it’s important for caregivers, family and friends to help her handle challenges with patience. This will help the person with Alzheimer’s make use of other surviving mechanisms.
If you are living with the early stages of the disease or if you are part of a support group who provides care to someone with the disease, these coping skills can help when tackling everyday challenges:
Step #1: Accept the changes
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, performing everyday tasks becomes more difficult. Realizing these changes and accepting them is a development that takes time.
It’s common for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia to try to hide shortcomings to save themselves from embarrassment. At other times, they may simply be reluctant to ask for help. To make up for those things, they may often find themselves in difficult situations that can be extremely stressful.
It’s crucial for those struggling with the disease and family members involved in caregiving to learn to accept these changes. It takes time to process and understand the situation fully. Accepting this new reality allows for room to move on to more specific coping skills.
Step #2: Balance control and flexibility
When working on developing coping strategies, it is important to try the ones that work best for the circumstances. If you’re living with Alzheimer’s, you likely want to maintain control over as much of your life as possible. But if you’re a caregiver to someone with the disease, you may feel overwhelmed and want your family member to be more flexible.
What might work for one family might not work for another. Find ways that allow a balance of control and flexibility. Focus on care options such as day care, living arrangements, doctor visit schedules and routines that are ideal for your specific situation.
Step #3: Create strategies for everyday life
Developing coping strategies entails a few basic steps. Start off by making a list of the tasks that are becoming more challenging.
For some patients, it may be their memory. Or for others, it might be motor functioning. If you are struggling with memory, set reminders. In the case of dealing with a progressive loss of the motor function, lean on family and friends to help provide care for that particular task. You can also check out these 51 tips to help you with daily life with dementia.
If you are a caregiver, prioritize tasks and chores. Don’t fret over tasks that aren’t necessary. Find a solution and a timeline that works for you and your loved one. Work together with your health care team to learn new tips that help you both get through the day with ease.
Step #4: Seek help and support
There is no shame in asking for help. If you are facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you may feel like you are a burden to family and friends. But it’s important that you prioritize your needs and continue to reach out when you need help.
If you are a caregiver, remember that compromised independence is not an easy development to deal with. Allow yourself time to accept the circumstances. Find ways to help your loved one put her needs first.
Step #5: Live life fully
It is not easy to live with an illness. Nor is it easy to be the caregiver of someone you love with an illness. It’s quite possible though to make choices that strengthen your mental health. Try the following:
- Set realistic goals and stay true to your expectations. Learn to take things one at a time, especially difficult tasks. Remind yourself it’s OK to ask for help and support when you need it.
- Establish a daily routine. Make a list for tasks that need to be accomplished to help you save time and be efficient.
- Avoid overburdening yourself with extra work. Give yourself time to complete one task at a time. Focus on finishing one thing rather than rushing on multiple things.
- Recognize your stress triggers and search for ways to overcome them. We all have different triggers that lead us to anxiety, depression and stress. When you are able to recognize them, you can work on ways to avoid them and/or better cope with them.
The bottom line
As a caregiver, supporting a patient with Alzheimer’s disease can be exhausting. But also as a caregiver, it’s important to keep in mind how much more exhausting it is for your loved one who is suffering from the ailment.
If you are facing this disease, you will likely experience a variety of overwhelming symptoms and progressions. Remember that there are many steps to help cope with Alzheimer’s and that your quality of life can be improved. Having patience and flexibility is key.
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