I Just Found Out My Mom (or Dad) Has Alzheimer’s: What Do I Do First?

June 18, 2009 at 11:56 pm 2 comments

Those first few days or weeks after you find out your parent or your spouse has Alzheimer’s is like living in a dense fog. You can’t think straight. You don’t know who to tell. You can barely say the “A” word out loud. Maybe you shifted from just being a daughter to a caregiver, too.

Maybe you ignore it, go back to work, and try everything you can to deny it. You even argue that the diagnosis may be wrong. Can’t a person just be forgetful? But you know deep down, something’s not right.

Maybe you’re the type to go straight into freak-out mode and tell everyone and anyone. You go on line, buy books, ask people for advice. You feel anxious and can’t sleep. You can’t help but to go to every awful place in your head.

At first, you have to feel whatever you need to feel. Give yourself permission to fall apart (however you define it) for at least a few days or weeks. You’ll get over it and move on faster if you don’t try to fight it. Be sure to find a good friend, a dear confidant to pour your heart out to.

The doctors didn’t  diagnose my mother’s Alzheimer’s. I did. I’m the one who began seeing the signs, who began asking the doctor questions. That may be true for your family as well. It’s not uncommon. Family members and close friends are the ones that notice the day-t0-day discrepancies–and many times, we’re the ones that make the doctor’s appointment and ask the questions. 

I didn’t rush out and yell it from the rooftop. I felt stunned and I wanted to preserve my mother’s dignity and I knew she wouldn’t want me to “talk behind her back.” But eventually, people needed to know. I was hesitant for her to go off with someone from church without them knowing, and I knew that her other doctors needed to know.

It was so hard to say it in front of my mother. She didn’t quite understand what “that word” meant and I soon realized I didn’t need to push that on her. She still felt like herself and it was important that I treat her the same. 

As a Caregiver, What Do I Do Next?

  • Ask your doctor about Alzheimer’s medications. It can make all the difference in the world. Your loved one can enjoy many more months if not years with far less symptoms with the proper medications. Check your insurance or Medicare policy and see what protocol you need to follow–and what they’ll cover and what they won’t.
  • Think short range and long range: What needs to change around the house? (Are they still living alone ? With you? Are they still driving? Do you need to start thinking about living arrangements?) Simplify their daily routine–declutter their living environment so they won’t feel overwhelmed. Be sure to monitor their medications and see if they can handle it on their own or will need daily supervision. Think about daily safety: showering, fall hazards, and cooking issues.
  • Give you and your loved one some time to adjust. No doubt, you’ll hit the web, buy books, join a support group and get lots of advice (including some horror stories) from anyone and everyone who has ever known anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Give yourself time to digest all this, to figure out your own situation and not to over-react or under-react.
  • Don’t give into long-term fear or depression. Alzheimer’s is a tough disease, I won’t sugar-coat it–but it’s not all doom and gloom either. Your life will look much the same as it has the past few months and years. Hopefully, you’re already involved in your parent’s lives. You have a routine–you go to the library on Tuesday, the grocery store on Friday, and you enjoy brunch at a local restaurant on Sundays. Continue to do all those wonderful family activities. In fact, they’ll be even sweeter.

Sure, more changes will come, but slow down and take a breath. These changes come in increments and with each adjustment, you adapt. As scary as the “A” word is (Alzheimer’s), know that life can still be good, and there are lots of resources to help you on your journey.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , , .

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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