Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's Happening to Mom? - what to do when you first discover - or just suspect - your loved one has Alzheimer's disease

You’re reeling from the diagnosis the doctor gave you. Your loved one has dementia – what is that? What does it mean for him (or her) – and for you?

You’ve come to visit your loved one after being away for a while – and something clearly is not right. Is it Alzheimer’s disease? Is it something else – or just you?

You’ve just lost a parent, and the surviving parent seems to be totally unable to cope. You’re dealing with your own sense of loss, and struggling to make sense of what’s happening to your surviving parent at the same time. You need help!

You’re one of the millions of family members who is forced to face the daily consequences of the diseases causing memory loss and dementia, and figuring out what to do now is your first – and most important – challenge.

The Discovery

Typically, the discovery of a disease causing memory loss and dementia comes on slowly. You may be able to look back and realize that there were hints for months, maybe even years, before the moment when you came to the conclusion that Mom or Dad was not just become more and more “eccentric.” Some professionals refer to this period before the discovery as a period of “denial” when family members simply refuse to accept that something is really wrong.

More often, however, family members just don’t put all the clues together until something happens to bring the concerns to the forefront. That could be one pivotal event – Dad went out for a drive and got lost for hours before coming back home.

Or, even more commonly, the discovery comes on slowly, as, over time, you notice more and more signs of a change in your loved one.

Perhaps you realize that bills are not getting paid. Perhaps you notice that your obsessively neat parent forgot to shave for 2 or 3 days in a row, or neglected to change clothes for several days. Perhaps you notice a change in behavior – a use of language that seems out of character; a need for continual contact or reassurance that is unusual.

Perhaps your loved one looks at you with no recognition – or asks you why you never come to visit when you were just there yesterday.

Perhaps your loved one turns on you and threatens to call the police and report you for stealing money, wallets or possessions.

If you’re like millions of other family members facing this moment of discovery, your first reaction may be dismay, especially if you have other responsibilities in your life.

What now?

How on earth do I cope with this, in addition to my regular, busy, full-time life?

We'll explore these questions, and begin answering them, in future articles. Join us!

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