Effective coping strategies can help individuals and caregivers foster good physical, mental and emotional health, as well as heal the spirit after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“I worry every day about the challenges ahead,” says Michael Ellenbogen, one of the millions of people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s disease, on the Alzheimer’s Association blog. “I went from being extremely proactive to becoming much less active and motivated.” Of course, Ellenbogen is not alone by any means. As with any other chronic illness, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life-changing.
The immediate aftermath of receiving such a diagnosis can be emotionally and mentally tumultuous, both for the patient and for family members. For the person who must live with the diagnosis, it can prompt a range of emotions, from anger and fear, to depression and powerlessness.
Coping with an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Certainly, scientists around the world are working hard to end Alzheimer’s and find effective treatments, but in the meantime, you, the individual, are still faced with the challenges of living with a chronic condition; or, as a caregiver, helping your loved one through the tough times ahead. Fortunately, there are a number of coping strategies that can ease the process and heal your spirit after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis:
1. Address your emotional needs
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can let loose a flood of emotions. Understanding and identifying these feelings, rather than suppressing them, is the key to healthy coping. “Coming to terms with your diagnosis and the emotions you are feeling will help you accept your diagnosis, move forward, and discover new ways to live a positive and fulfilling life,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. A few of the strategies they suggest include:
- Keeping a journal about your thoughts and feelings
- Sharing honestly with friends and family
- Staying engaged in activities you enjoy
- Seeking help from a support group, counselor, clergy member, or doctor
- Taking the time you need to grieve, feel sad, or angry
2. Care for your physical health
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, physical exercise, and plenty of rest can help you live well for a long time, even with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The effects of physical activity benefit not only the body, but also the mind. “Research suggests that mild-to-moderate physical activity may help delay or slow a decline in thinking skills, reduce stress, possibly help improve symptoms of depression, and may even reduce the risk of falls,” says Alz.org.
3. Embrace good spiritual health
Another way to cope with the difficult emotions prompted by an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is to embrace a spiritual approach. This means different things for different people: some find solace through friends and family, a spiritual community or church, others by being in nature or by engaging in calming activities such as prayer, yoga, or meditation. Whatever the method, connecting with our core selves and what is most important to us can help us find meaning, strength, and serenity in a challenging situation.
4. Accept help from others
No matter how it feels when you’re first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another chronic illness, you are not alone. Strong family and social relationships can help you build the support system you need not only to cope with the diagnosis, but also improve your quality of life when symptoms get more noticeable.
Learning to accept help is a critical component of getting through difficult times, even if it feels like a loss of independence, says the Alzheimer’s Association: “While it may seem like a sign of weakness at first, asking for help when you need it may help you maintain your independence and remain in control.”
Connect with others in the early stages of Alzheimer’s — having others who understand what you’re going through can be comforting and reduce the feeling of stigma that sometimes goes along with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
5. Give back — to others and ourselves
Taking an active role in our own future when faced with chronic illness can be one of the most empowering things we can do to heal our spirit. “Now that you are living with Alzheimer’s, it becomes even more important for you to live your life in a way that will preserve the essence of who you are and make an impact in the areas that are most important to you,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. “This positive effect on others becomes your legacy.”
Whether your legacy consists of passing on photos and stories to your family, taking trips you’ve always wanted to take, volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you, or even helping spread awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, focusing on how you can have a positive impact on the future can help you feel positive about the present, too. In another article on the Alzheimer’s Association blog, caregiver Judy Johanson says she’s even learned to look on her husband Steve’s diagnosis as a gift: “Because we have this knowledge, we don’t waste a minute. We know this time is sacred. Steve’s quality of life is good — and we are living every day.”
Different people find solace in different ways — what coping strategies have been the most helpful to you? Share your tips with our readers in the comments below.