Your 68-year-old father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, and suddenly you are a caregiver. He and the family had noticed his increasing inability to manage his finances, recall where he put things, and his memory gaps about recent events.

How does he and your family respond to the news?

Accepting the Diagnosis

The reaction of someone who has just received the diagnosis can vary. Denial, fear, frustration, and sadness may be among the emotion mix. Surprisingly, however, according to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, many people may experience relief after their diagnosis.

Educate Yourself

As you become a caregiver for your elderly parents, it’s important to educate yourself. How does it affect someone? What changes in your loved will you see as the disease progresses? What medications are available?

Stages. Dementia worsens over time, but how it progresses varies. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years. The stages below should be used as a general guide, but it may be difficult to determine what stage the person is in. Healthline lists the stages as follows:

Mild Dementia

  • Inability to remember recent events
  • Personality changes
  • Getting lost or misplacing objects
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and complex tasks, such as managing finances
  • Trouble organizing or expressing thoughts

Moderate Dementia

  • Increasing confusion or poor judgement
  • Greater memory loss, including a loss of events in the more distant past
  • Needing assistance with tasks such as getting dressed, bathing and grooming
  • Significant personality and behavior changes, often caused by agitation and unfounded suspicion
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and feeling restless at night

Severe Dementia

  • Losing the ability to communicate
  • Needing full-time daily assistance with tasks, such as eating and dressing
  • Losing physical capabilities, such as walking, sitting, and holding ones’ head up and, eventually, the ability to swallow, to control the bladder, and bowel function
  • An increased susceptibility to infections, such as pneumonia

Treatment options. There is no cure for dementia, but there are medications that can treat symptoms. Talk to a physician. As the dementia progresses, more supervision will be required to confirm your loved one is taking the medications as prescribed.

Plan for the Future

Planning for the needs of your father should begin soon after the diagnosis, giving him the opportunity to express his wishes and concerns.

Gather important documents, such as:

  • Birth certificate
  • Car title
  • Deeds
  • Insurance information
  • Benefits programs
  • Financial statements
  • Medical history
  • Family history documents

While he is still cognitively able, make sure your father has designated a person or persons to make financial and healthcare decisions for him when he is no longer able to make these decisions.

The caregiving responsibilities will eventually become too much for one person. Put together a team of family members and friends to assist. Decide who will take responsibility for meals, medications, paying the bills, driving Dad to doctor’s appointments, and performing household chores and home maintenance.

Know your limits. Understand that professional care will be needed when the dementia becomes severe, and possibly prior to that stage. Research long-term care communities that specialize in memory support.

The idea is to try to be prepared for the dementia rather than reacting to challenges as they arise. To help with the planning, it may be wise to consult a care manager, a professional versed in the needs of senior adults, including those with dementia.

The Most Important Thing

The man is, and will always be, your father. As his abilities diminish, his need for dignity, respect, and love remain. Find activities that create a sense of joy, purpose and accomplishment for him. He may not be able to tell you how much it means to him, but give him the best moments that you can.

If your senior loved one needs extra care, explore our Memory Support Communities.