How to prepare for dementia

More than 400,000 people in Australia and 15 million worldwide live with dementia so, suffice to say, it is a common brain disorder. In fact, it’s the most common brain affliction for those 85 years and older. It may not get to you, but there’s a chance it could chase down someone you love.

It can start with a forgotten name, difficulty finding the right words or misplacing and eventually losing personal items, onto a gradual decline towards forgetting the past, family members and friends, and where you live. It will devolve to completely forgetting how to do the simplest things.

All through this time, you may require guidance, at first, then full-time care later on.

It may not be the nicest thing to think about but having a plan in case of dementia is a smart move and one that will take pressure off you and your family.

And yet, a survey of 1007 Americans conducted by Harris Interactive for the MetLife Foundation revealed that just 41 per cent had discussed the matter with their families, 33 per cent had considered care options and 21 per cent had a financial plan in place.

Anyone who has seen dementia take down a loved one will know that it’s a scary proposition, but experts say it may be wise to put that fear to good use and create a plan to prepare for the potential onset of dementia.

These eight suggestions will have you on your way.

1. Learn the risks
Find out if dementia is in your genes. If it is, you may have a higher risk of developing the disease, but it’s not a sure thing. The biggest risk factor is age, which we all have in common. Even more reason to prepare, but also do the little things to help prevent dementia, focus on consuming foods that are good for your brain, and remain active.

2. Keep your heart healthy
“Anything you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, such as eating well and exercising, reduces your risk of dementia,” says Deborah Blacker, Director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

3. Watch for the signs
Occasional memory lapses are nothing to worry about. But when that loss of memory disrupts daily life, or if you have difficulty solving problems or making plans, or issues completing regular tasks, then you may have to acknowledge that the worst could be happening. Other red flags include:

  • confusion in time
  • loss of direction
  • trouble understanding signs, words
  • difficulty recognising spatial relationships
  • problems remembering words
  • misplacing things
  • losing the ability to retrace steps
  • decreased or poor judgement
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • changes in mood or personality.

4. Talk to your family
If you notice this happening to you or someone you love, it’s time to talk. You should cover such issues as how you wish to be cared for, what to do with money, including how to handle finances, investments and assets, as well as who would be in charge of making decisions about health and life in general.

5. Get legal and finance out of the way first
Consult a financial planner and estate planner, seek advice as to how you should prepare for a long-term disability, including who would be best to make certain decisions. Set up your estate so it doesn’t burden your family. If you don’t already know, get the lowdown on your insurance and make sure you covered. Set up a trust so that your family can draw down money to pay for your care (or the other way around). Also appoint an Enduring Power of Attorney who can manage your affairs when you no longer can.

6. Research aged-care
The next step is to research care facilities. You may wish for your family to take care of you, but that may not be possible, so at least ensure you have a back up – even if there are the best of intentions at the commencement of the condition.

7. Check your head
There are tests on the way that can predict Alzheimer’s up to eight years out, but there are others that can tell you if you already have it. Get tested. The earlier you find out the easier it will be to manage and, hopefully, put off the onset of major symptoms.

8. Develop day-to-day routines
Keep a sense of structure and familiarity, develop daily habits that become automatic, create daily routines that become second nature. This makes caring down the track much easier, and also allows you to stay independent for much longer.

Also let your family and friends in on your routines, so they can help to keep them going when you start to have trouble.

Plan activities and join groups, try to occupy your mind and stay as social as possible for as long as you can.

With all this taken care of beforehand, you can enjoy the time you have with friends and family and make the transition a lot less painful and challenging. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not diseases we would wish upon anyone, but if there are ways to ease the burden on yourself and your family, then surely that’s a good thing.

Do you know anyone with dementia? Have you been involved in the transition? Can you share any tips with our members about how to handle such a phase?

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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