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Building Family Support Around a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia

A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be hard to accept, both for the diagnosed individual and for their family members. Denial is a normal coping mechanism in the face of change, but acceptance can help get everyone on the same page and work together to help their loved one enjoy the best quality of life for as long as possible.

Getting the Diagnosis

Family members are often the first to notice behavioral changes and memory loss that can signal Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. These conditions are connected to biological changes in the brain and typically begin many years before symptoms are noticeable.

One of the most common questions around memory loss is whether it’s part of the normal decline one expects when getting older or whether it’s a sign of something more serious. (Our resource, 5 Signs To Look for to Know it’s Time for Memory Care, is a great place to start.) This confusion makes it even easier to deny obvious issues and can lead to conflict among family members.

While there are diagnostic tests that can confirm the presence of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease, these tests are expensive and not normally covered by insurance. Consequently, official diagnosis is most commonly based on observations over time that align with expected behaviors and progression.

These challenges to providing an official, formal diagnosis can make it especially hard for the individual in question, and their loved ones, to accept.

Getting on the Same Page

It can be incredibly hard to accept that a loved one has a life-impairing illness, especially one that steals their identity. It’s even more challenging when family members have different opinions about the severity and how to proceed.

Keep in mind that everyone processes change differently and at their own pace. Don’t be surprised if some people start problem solving while others panic or even begin to grieve. Having open conversations with each other about your feelings, expectations, and even your questions and concerns can make it easier to get on the same page.

Take the time to educate yourself on what the diagnosis can mean for your loved one, both in the short-term and long-term. Encourage other family members to share what they’ve learned. Consider dividing up tasks and responsibilities so that people feel involved and not overwhelmed.

Putting Together a Plan

What you need to do next, and how quickly, depends on where your loved one is in their disease progression and how quickly they move from one stage to the next.

Other considerations include the number of family members involved in decision-making, who (if anyone) has been designated as power of attorney and/or health care proxy, how close everyone lives to the person diagnosed, and whether that person is still living alone.

For someone diagnosed in the early stages, you may have enough time for everyone to accept and buy into a plan. But regardless of where your loved one is in their progression, creating a plan is an important next step.

Taking on New Roles

Becoming the primary caregiver for an aging loved one can be a huge role reversal with direct impact on relationships throughout the family. Clearly defining everyone’s role in this new landscape can reduce the risk of resentments and misunderstandings.

Asking for Professional Help

When in doubt, turn to the professionals. Professional care offers you the opportunity to compartmentalize medical care and personal relationships. They are trained in guiding families through the challenges of an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. With different levels of professional care to choose from, you can find the support system that works best for your family’s situation, including support groups for everyone involved. With the assistance of professional help, you’ll be able to focus on what’s most important: nurturing your relationship with your loved one.

Willow River is Here to Help

If you are ready to speak to a professional, Willow River can help answer your questions and provide the resources you’re looking for. Call Willow River Senior Living at 888-546-1886 to start the conversation today.