By Harry S. Margolis
A recent article in The New York Times offered some hope for those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Entitled "Leading an Active Life with a Diagnosis of Dementia," the article featured a woman, Laurie Scherrer, diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 55 who continues to lead an active life.
Steps Toward an Active Life with Dementia
Here are a few of the steps Ms. Scherrer took:
- She and her husband got their legal and financial affairs in order.
- Joined an on-line group called Dementia Mentors that links her with others with similar diagnoses with whom she can share their experiences and strategies for coping.
- Learned strategies for avoiding situations that exacerbate her challenges. For instance, she only shops at times the grocery store will be less crowded since noise and crowds can add to her confusion.
- Found purpose in life by joining an advocacy group, the Dementia Action Alliance, for which she speaks to policymakers and neurologists.
Each person with a dementia diagnosis will find his own way to cope and make life as fulfilling as possible. We've had clients who continue to exercise and hike (with partners so they don't get lost). Others have taken up painting.
A number of websites provide other tips for people who have received diagnoses of dementia. These include:
- Take care of your physical health through exercise, rest and diet.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Stay in contact with friends and family.
- Ask for help as needed.
- Organize your belongings so they're easy to find.
- Keep doing what you like for as long as possible.
- Keep a written schedule where you can find it.
- Develop a daily routine.
- Take on one task at a time and take your time with it.
Similar to the groups that Ms. Scherrer joined, the Alzheimer's Association has an Early-Stage Advisory Group that works to explain the illness to the public and to policy makers.
In short, while a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating and will undoubtedly mean a significant life change for both the person with the diagnosis and her family, it doesn't have to be the end of a fulfilling life.