Coping with an Alzheimer's Diagnosis
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: March 2023
Getting a diagnosis of any medical condition can be stressful and scary. An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis is no different, whether you are the patient or part of the support system for a patient. Coping with an Alzheimer's diagnosis is certainly no easy feat but there are steps that can be taken immediately for a better tomorrow.
It is life-changing; there are a lot of unknowns and questions that someone might have. There is no right or wrong way to react when diagnosed. It is helpful to take the time to feel whatever emotion that may come up. Naming and allowing time to feel those feelings is a necessary first step.
Feel your feelings
Just as everyone is different, we may each respond differently to the news of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. For some people, there may be relief at finally knowing the reasons behind symptoms or to have a diagnosis with various modes of treatment.
For others, there may be anger or the fact that life is turning out very differently than expected. There may be denial and seeking a second, third, and fourth opinion. There may be a sense of fear, isolation from family and friends, or resentment that this is happening to you. All of these feelings are normal.1
Other and different emotions that might come up include a sense of loss, grief, or depression. A person might cycle through feelings and some might respond differently to the news – and that's okay too. Dealing with a major medical diagnosis with implications to their larger lifestyle is a lot to take in.
If feelings of depression or anxiety last for more than several weeks and begin to affect your day-to-day, talk with a doctor. Clinical depression or anxiety is treatable with the appropriate care.
Coping with an Alzheimer's diagnosis: your tools
Actively feeling your feelings is necessary to move forward, and there are various ways to help a person do this, as well as steps to empower oneself with the diagnosis. Here are some things that can be helpful in coping with the diagnosis.2
Learn about the diagnosis. Find and talk with a doctor familiar with Alzheimer's disease. Educate yourself around the condition. Understand available options and treatments - start putting a plan in place for each stage of the disease.
Take care of any legal and financial planning as soon as possible. It may seem early to do this. But as the disease progresses, making decisions that are complex and require thorough consideration will become more difficult. Making these important decisions now can help relieve a lot of stress later on and help you and your team feel more empowered about the future.
Find resources. Ask the doctor, call your local Area Agency on Aging, and search online for local and national resources that can help with the nuances of Alzheimer's disease. Supports like finding caregivers, financial assistance, information about treatments, and various kinds of support groups, both in-person and virtual.
Don't be afraid to seek help. Support groups, family members, and friends can be helpful. There is also no shame in seeking a professional counselor to speak with. Sometimes an outside, objective, professionally trained individual can help us reframe situations from a new point of view or provide coping skills or tools.
Yes, an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis can be incredibly scary and overwhelming to receive. Coping with an Alzheimer's diagnosis requires time, be patient with yourself and those around you. There is still life left to live; progression happens slowly over time but preparation will remain key. Embrace each day.