A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease is challenging for both the individual and his or her family members. On one hand, you want to respect your loved one’s independence as much and as long as possible. At the same time, you need to understand potential challenges and limitations and plan for them. For people with mild dementia, it’s important to take these first steps.
In the early stages of dementia, people may be able to do many things on their own, and you should encourage these activities. But, you need to assess what is safe and be prepared for a time when they need significant assistance. How will your loved ones get their meals, get dressed, comply with medication regimens, get around safely both inside and outside their homes, stay connected and engaged? Which family members will help oversee the care and how? Should a paid caregiver be hired? What are the costs?
Your local Area Agency on Aging, 800-677-1116, can help you learn what services are available in your community. In addition, here’s how you might help:
- Suggest your loved ones keep a notebook they can refer to for information on anything they want to be sure to remember, including upcoming appointments. They should always have the notebook with them.
- Make the home as safe as possible. Here’s some key advice on safety at home to prevent a fire, exposure to hazardous materials and falls. The doctor, the Alzheimerʼs Association, or the local Area Agency on Aging should be able to refer you to someone who can modify the home appropriately and let you know about assistive devices.
- Get your loved ones an ID bracelet in case they get lost. Also contact the Alzheimer’s Association to register with its Safe Return program.
- Consider whether it is safe for your loved one to continue driving. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it could still be safe for the person to drive. But, you should contact the department of motor vehicles to do an independent assessment. If your loved one passes the test, make sure he or she is reevaluated every six months. If your loved one must give up driving, let your loved one ventilate about it, and understand what a loss of independence it is to a person. Find a taxi service or other form of transportation for the person to use.
- Find a grocery store, a restaurant and a pharmacy that will deliver to your loved one’s home. And, find out about nutrition programs in the community. You might be able to arrange for free home-delivered meals.
- To keep people with mild dementia active and engaged, make sure they see family and friends regularly, exercise, and get outside. Find out about adult day care services in the community. Contact the National Adult Day Services Association our your local Area Agency on Aging to learn more.
- Manage your loved ones’ finances along with them, as it can be hard for people even with mild dementia to write checks and manage finances. Ideally, take away their credit cards or significantly lower their credit limit. Also, keep in mind that they may be an easy target for a financial scam and protect against that.
- Encourage their independence by helping them to continue to do the things they’ve always done, whether it be using Facebook or knitting or playing bridge, even if they can’t do them perfectly.
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