Coping With an Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Getting a diagnosis of any medical condition can be stressful and scary, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is no different. It is life-changing, and there are a lot of unknowns and questions that someone might have. There is no right or wrong way to react when diagnosed, and it’s helpful to take the time to feel whatever emotion that comes your way. Recognizing those feelings, allowing time to feel those feelings, and then thinking about next steps can all help someone feel stronger and more prepared for what lies ahead.

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 for sure the reasons behind symptoms or to finally have a diagnosis with various modes of treatment. For others, there may be anger at the diagnosis or at 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 and not someone else. All of these feelings are normal.1 Other emotions that might come up include a sense of loss or grief or depression. A person might cycle through feelings and some might be stronger than others – and that’s okay. They’re dealing with a major medical diagnosis with implications to their larger lifestyle, and that’s a lot to take in.

If feelings of depression or anxiety last for more than several weeks, or those feelings are negatively impacting life or daily functioning, talk with a doctor. If an individual has clinical depression or anxiety, this is treatable.

Coping 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 diagnosis2:

  • Learn about the diagnosis: talk with a doctor about the diagnosis. Learn all that’s possible about Alzheimer’s disease, what stage an individual is at, what can be expected as the disease progresses, and available treatments. If there’s something that’s not understood, ask a doctor. Doctors aren’t bothered with any questions; that’s what they’re there for!
  • Take care of any legal and financial planning as soon as possible: it may seem early to do this, but as the disease progresses, it will get harder. Making these important decisions now can help relieve a lot of stress later on and help feel more empowered about the future.
  • Surround the person with calming, positive people and things. Establishing a routine now can help later on, as their memory or cognitive skills become impaired. Creating a safe and calm space can provide them with comfort in the face of uncertainty.
  • Find resources. Ask a doctor and search online – there are many local and national resources for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families that can help with finding caregivers, provide financial assistance, provide information about the disease and treatments, and various kinds of support groups, both in-person and on the internet.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help. Support groups and trusted family members and friends can be helpful, but there is also no shame in seeking a professional counselor to speak with. Sometimes an outside, objective, a professionally trained individual can help us reframe situations from a new point of view or provide us with coping skills or techniques we hadn’t thought of.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019