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4 Ways to Cope with a New Dementia Diagnosis

Updated: Jun 3, 2023



First, Dementia is not a disease.

That’s news to many people. Instead, Dementia is a syndrome where one or more progressive diseases, conditions, or disorders affect the brain structure sufficiently enough to limit one’s ability to perform activities of daily living, along with a host of other cognitive changes. Yes, that’s a mouthful.


And that may be why some medical professionals will initially use the linguistic shortcut to say that someone likely has “Dementia” without much more detail. They may not know at that moment what’s causing the cognitive impairments, so calling it Dementia is a way to name it in a general sense.


But wait, let's back up. If Dementia is not a disease, how do I know what disease or disorder(s) I have and what I should do about it? The glib answer is: it depends.


Depends on what? It depends on a bunch of different criteria, such as: What is your age? What are your mental state and physical ability to withstand the rigors of testing? What are your medical history and your family's medical history? What are your exact symptoms? Are you possibly depressed? Do you have memory loss alone, or do you have hallucinations, too? Are you wobbly on your feet, or do your feet kind of stick to the floor, etc.? These symptoms and many more are clues to building the case for a more definitive cause(s) of your cognitive issues.


Also, have you been tested? Did the doctor do a mini-cognitive assessment or depression screening? How about an in-depth neuropsych exam, done a couple of times over a multi-month period? Did you have an MRI, CT scan, or PET scan? How about a blood test or spinal fluid test? Was there a plausible reason to do genetic testing? All these tests may add to the knowledge doctors can bring to bear on a more precise diagnosis.


Suffice it to say, for this post, we're mainly concentrating on the clinical presentation, in essence, how you act, what the cognitive screening test indicated, what you think about the situation, how it's progressing if it is, and what your loved ones are observing. And for many, that's the first level of evaluation.


Then, after you receive a diagnosis of "possible" or "likely" Dementia, from a clinical perspective, your doctor may want to do additional testing (which we hope they do) to dig a bit deeper. And until more is known, they are likely to focus on your neurological health, suggesting different treatments and therapies to help manage your symptoms in the short term. You may also be told to do advance care planning in anticipation of forthcoming changes. But there are brain-healthy activities that you can do that may benefit you now and in the future.


These ideas may help you cope more easily with a new Dementia diagnosis, even if it's not a definitive one:


Establish a daily routine

Doing the same things every day may help you adopt a comforting rhythm. It may also keep you from losing things if you train yourself to put your glasses or keys in the same place.


Be sure to include daily chores on your list of things to do.


“We want them to do as much as they can without being overwhelmed,” says Rehan Aziz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “If they can still set the table and prepare simple meals... those are things we want to maintain. We don’t want [them] to lose those skills.”


If you need prompting throughout the day to maintain your routine, keep an oversized calendar in the kitchen listing your schedule, from your morning walk to your family dinner.


Get moving

Grab your sneakers or your favorite bathing suit: Research has shown that physical activity can improve your mood, which may lift your spirits if you need a boost.


Be cautious about exercising too vigorously if you’re at risk of falling; consider swimming or water aerobics instead of walking or hiking. Aim for half an hour of exercise daily for better mental and physical health.


Manage your well-being

If news about your health makes you depressed or anxious, find a therapist who treats older adults or people with Dementia.


“If they’re having a difficult time with the diagnosis, which is not unreasonable, we can refer them to meet with individual therapists for supportive talk therapy,” Aziz says. “If they’re feeling particularly depressed, you might consider medications that might help.”


Connect with loved ones

Communicate with friends and relatives regularly. Staying close to the important people in your life may help you feel less isolated. Phone calls, video calls, and in-person visits are all good options to help you keep in touch.


The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, paid or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


Lisa Fields is a full-time freelance writer specializing in health, psychology, sleep, nutrition, and fitness. Her work has been published by Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Self, and many other publications. Learn more about Lisa at https://www.writtenbylisafields.com.

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