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Coping Skills for Those With Dementia

Rudolph C. Hatfield, PhD., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

upset older man Whenever a person receives a diagnosis of dementia this can be a very stressful and trying experience for them. This can be especially true if the diagnosis is given in the early stages of the disorder when the person's cognition is still relatively intact. People in the early stages of dementia can use many supports and coping methods to assist them. As the dementia progresses, they will often need to rely more on others. Some of the potential supports/coping methods a person might consider once they have been diagnosed with a dementia can include:

  • Do not be afraid to ask for advice from your doctor regarding how to handle this new situation.
  • Confide in family and friends and explain the situation to them as soon as possible. The most important coping tool that a person can have is strong support from one's family members and close friends. If possible, work with family and friends to develop a plan to assist you.
  • If possible, have family and close friends meet with a doctor and the treatment providers to discuss the situation and potential approaches/coping methods that everyone can work together on.
  • Consider joining a support group. There are opportunities in many areas to participate in support groups for people with dementia. Often these groups consist of people who have dementia and are in the early to moderate stages of dementia and even may include caregivers. This can be an important source for a person to get emotional support, learn coping methods that work for others, and share one's own experience to help others. People can find support groups by asking their doctor, discussing the issue with other healthcare workers, or calling local community health centers and asking about potential support groups in the area.
  • Get treatment for emotional responses such as the start of depression or anxiety. The use of a psychiatrist or psychotherapist to deal with emotional responses to stressful situations can always be helpful. This is very important if the person receives a clinical diagnosis of depression, an anxiety disorder, or some other disorder such as a trauma and stress related disorder (for example, acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress syndrome).
  • Start a journal to record your reactions, thoughts, feelings, etc. Making a daily journal can help you cope, discover and apply new ways to approach your situation, and can be used as a reminder of the past.
  • Make use of strategies that can aid you. For example, rely on the use of lists and reminders to help you remember things. Use electronic tools, such as cell phones and other electronic devices, to help prompt or remind you of things that need to be done. Try using some of the many of the different organizers that help people remember to take their medications Try to read as much as you can about how people cope with their experience of having dementia. Again, asking your doctor about the types of reminders and electronic devices that are available for people in your situation can help direct you to aids that fit your needs.
  • Change your diet, so that you are eating less junk food, less salt, less carbs, fewer fatty foods, etc. Try to eliminate any use of alcohol except for an occasional alcoholic beverage. Eating healthy can make you feel better.
  • Discuss your use of caffeine with your doctor.
  • Stay as active as possible. If you are not on a light exercise program, ask your doctor about getting started on a walking program or some other exercise program. Being active can help to delay the progression of dementia. You can brainstorm ways to modify these activities as necessary with your doctor, friends, and family members.
  • For people who are still working, it may be a good idea to discuss the situation with your supervisors to prepare for the future.
  • Stay updated on your treatment. Attend all your treatment sessions and follow your doctor's advice. Take your medications, and if you experience side effects from the medication, report these to your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Organize your life to make it as simple and routine as possible.
  • Make sure to plan for the future. If you have not already assigned a legal guardian or power of attorney, this is the time to do that while you can still make these decisions without significant difficulty.
  • Make sure that you always carry identification on you. Getting an identification bracelet with an emergency contact number is a good idea for anyone.
  • Don't give in no matter how difficult it seems.

Being diagnosed with dementia is obviously very stressful and can even be a traumatic experience. However, it doesn't mean that a person should give up and stop living. Instead, it can offer a chance for a person to enjoy their life and prepare themselves to face challenges. They can reconnect with their family and friends and get involved in other new areas of support and activities that can enrich their life. In addition, often people can find meaning through tragedy and suffering. People can use the experience to help find meaning and relevance in life and be able to move forward.