Coping Skills for Those With Dementia

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If you have recently been diagnosed with dementia, it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions, such as denial, anger, fear, loneliness, frustration, loss, and/or depression. People use a variety of coping mechanisms to deal with issues as difficult as dementia. Here are some things to keep in mind in order to cope in a way that benefits you and your family:

  • Take care of your physical health through nutrition, exercise, and adequate rest. Schedule regular medical check-ups with a geriatrician (a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating older adults) and/or another professional who has expertise in dementia and related conditions. Be sure to take medications as prescribed, and return to the doctor before making any changes to your regimen on your own.
  • It may be tempting to drink alcohol as a method of coping with dementia because drinking may temporarily make you feel better and distract you from thinking about your diagnosis. However, avoid using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It could interact with medications or cause additional health or cognitive problems; also, it will not effectively address your feelings in the long run.
  • Consider keeping a journal to write down, express, and work through your feelings.
  • Find an early-stage dementia support group where you can connect with others who have been diagnosed and learn more about the disease. See the web resources listed at the end of this discussion for information on support groups.
  • If you are depressed and find that other methods of coping are not helping, seek mental health treatment with a professional who has expertise in issues affecting older adults and who has experience treating people with dementia.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with family and friends. Although you may feel embarrassed or want to withdraw, continue to share your feelings with them.
  • Continue participating in your favorite and regular activities as long as you can, and as long as you still enjoy them. Brainstorm ways to modify these activities as necessary to adapt to your changing level of cognitive functioning (you may need help from a clinician, family member, or friend when doing this). For example, if reading a long novel becomes difficult, consider listening to shorter segments of a favorite book on tape.
  • Perform difficult tasks at times of the day when you feel your best and most alert. Also, allow yourself ample time to complete tasks. If a task becomes too difficult, do not hesitate to take a break or ask for help.
  • Keep a written schedule handy to keep track of appointments, tasks, and medication schedules. Also, make a list of important phone numbers as well as your personal information (where you live, your phone number and emergency contacts) to keep with you in case of emergencies.
  • Make sure your belongings are organized in such a way that things are easy to find. Putting labels on drawers and doors can be a helpful way of keeping track of things.
  • Plan for the future. Decide how you want things to be handled when your disease progresses to the point where you can no longer care for yourself. Communicate your medical preferences (e.g, whether you want CPR, a feeding tube, or other procedures in order to prolong your life) to your family - especially your primary caregiver - and make necessary legal and financial arrangements (e.g., appointing your primary caregiver or another trusted person to handle your money and affairs when you can no longer do so). For more information on planning your affairs, please see our related topic center. Also consider and discuss where you would like to live if alternative (more supportive) housing or caregiving arrangements become necessary. Assisted living facilities (places that offer more assistance than independent living, but less assistance than nursing homes), nursing homes, and in-home care can be viable options.
  • If you are still working, research potential work options such as a reassignment to a more manageable position, early retirement, or other accommodations.
  • Remember that a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that life is over. It means that there will be challenges ahead, and thinking about those challenges now will better prepare your whole family for them and benefit all of you in the long run.

Additional Resources

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