Increasing memory loss, cognitive impairment, communication difficulties and mood changes related to Alzheimer’s disease are incredibly distressing. However, it’s still possible to have a good quality of life.

Family members or caregivers may be tempted to step in and do everything for you, but remember the ability to do things for yourself (with a little help when appropriate) will increase your self-confidence and help you to retain a sense of self-worth.

According to the World Alzheimer Report 2013, around 50% of people with dementia need personal care, while the other half will develop these needs over time.

Even so, it doesn’t mean you can’t live independently in the early and even middle stages of the illness.

The key is to get your affairs in order and have a coordinated long-term care plan in place. This plan, which may include appointing someone to take care of your financial and legal affairs, if you’re no longer able to do so, will need to evolve and be continually monitored over time.

That way, the care plan will be able to meet both your needs and those of your caregivers over the course of the illness.

We share six ways to help you cope while still living independently:

1. Support: Find out what types of professional services, support groups and voluntary organisations are available in your area, so that you have the information handy when you might need it at a later stage.

2. Health: Take good care of your health by checking with your doctor if you feel unwell, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly. It’s especially important to have regular eye, hearing and dental checks.

3. Routine: Slow things down, even if it takes longer to get something done. In this way, you may be able to continue doing things for yourself for longer. Doing things at the same time every day/week makes it easier to stick to a routine. It also helps to divide tasks and activities into manageable chunks.

4. Leisure: You may find some of your previous leisure interests too demanding, so rather focus on those things you can still do and enjoy rather than stressing about those you can’t.

5. Work: If you’re still working and start to find it stressful, look at options to either decrease your hours or change to a less demanding job before quitting completely. Before you resign, get expert advice on negotiating a possible lump sum payment. Also find out about a pension payout or whether you/your family are entitled to any other benefits.

6. Everyday life: If you forget or don’t understand things, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be patient with yourself – it’s okay if you don’t do things perfectly the first time. Try these practical tips to help with memory problems: put labels on drawers/cupboards to remind you where things are, place items you use all the time (e.g. your spectacles or keys) in an obvious place that is clearly visible, write reminder notes about things you need to do, and place useful telephone numbers close to the phone.

Sources:
1. Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) is the international federation of Alzheimer associations throughout the world. Website: www.alz.co.uk.
2. Alzheimer’s South Africa extract “Caring for the person with dementia – a handbook for families and other carers” website: www.alzheimers.org.za.
3. Alzheimer’s Disease International: World Alzheimer Report 2013: Journey of Caring (Executive Summary).

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