It’s never easy to get older, and it can be even harder to see your parents age, especially if your parents suffer from an illness or ailment. And while all diseases are terrible, Alzheimer’s and Dementia stages can be incredibly hard to face as you try to hold it together for your family. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” It is the most common form of dementia (a disease that involves memory loss or decreased mental abilities over time) and while typically Alzheimer’s occurs as people age, it isn’t limited to the elderly—early onset Alzheimer’s occurs in about 5% of cases. Experts report “that more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease” and currently, there is no cure, so that number is only expected to rise.

Yes, it’s a scary disease that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, but unfortunately, it can affect anyone and it’s relatively common, so it’s important that you know what it is, and how to deal with it should someone you know and love be diagnosed with this condition.

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In order to know how to cope with Alzheimer’s, you need to understand what happens to the brain when you suffer from this condition. According to a report in the NY Times, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that worsens over time and causes a loss of brain function. “The disease slowly attacks nerve cells in all parts of the cortex of the brain and some surrounding structures, thereby impairing a person’s abilities to govern emotions, recognize errors and patterns, coordinate movement, and remember. Ultimately, a person with AD loses all memory and mental functioning.” Currently there is no way to recover brain function once Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, and because the disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, some of which are still under investigation, it’s a hard to disease to prevent and a disease that currently cannot be cured.

So what do you do if someone you love—especially a parent—is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease? It’s a terrifying wakeup call that makes you realize that your parents, who you once saw as indestructible, are actually human, are aging and are in need of your help. The tables have turned, and instead of completely relying on your parents for support, love and care, they will need you more than ever. Which means you need to be ready to step up to the task. You need to be armed with information, love, kindness, patience and positivity. And above all, you need to be there. Here are a few tips to help you cope with a parent who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.


Be Patient
One symptom of Alzheimer’s is that those afflicted suffer memory loss, they struggle to find the right words, they forget names or feel unable to function in normal daily tasks. It can be really hard to watch your parents struggle with those very basic actions, but try to be patient and understanding. You might have to repeat yourself, you might have to help them with tasks that they used to perform with ease, and you they will make mistakes that you need to help fix. Remember that they aren’t being lazy and it’s not for lack of trying—Alzheimer’s affects one’s ability to function cognitively and eventually it makes it hard or impossible to remember small and big parts of your day and life. Take deep breaths, pay attention to how your parent is behaving and what they can and cannot do on their own, and then help with kindness whenever needed.

Set Realistic Goals
Some activities that were once fun and easy can suddenly seem overwhelming and unachievable when you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Everything from getting dressed to cooking dinner to reading a book or doing a puzzle can start to seem like a really scary and impossible task. Set small goals and work in baby steps. The simple act of accomplishing something feels good and helps people with dementia feel capable and present.


Focus on Communication
One of the telltale signs of Dementia stages or Alzheimer’s is being unable to find the right words to express what you are thinking and what you want to say. We often take communication for granted and celebrate a chance to be silent, but when you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s you need to talk to each other as often as possible. They will most likely misinterpret what you are saying, and you will misunderstand them as they lose the ability to accurately communicate and use specific words, names or titles. Try to communicate verbally and physically as often as possible, and work to find ways to convey your message and how you are feeling. Suffering from this disease is challenging, and you want to try to ensure your parent doesn’t also suffer an emotional breakdown when they can’t get through to you.


Make Plans for the Future
It’s important that you think about the future and make realistic plans to accommodate the needs of your loved one and your own needs as well. Remember that you can’t be everywhere and everything for everyone at all times, so enlist help when needed. When your parent is no longer able to drive, you might need to ask another family member to help transport them. If they start to misplace objects, label different areas to help them stay organized and feel in control. As the disease progresses they will need more assistance and be less self-sufficient, so start to plan now for the kind of help you and they will need, and for the new roles that your family members will need to assume. The more you plan now the better equipped you will be to handle anything as your parent’s condition worsens.


But Also Enjoy the Moment and Celebrate the Past
As you plan for the future, it’s also crucial you talk about the past. Reminiscing about memories from childhood or even a few weeks ago will not only help exercise your parent’s mind but it will also help them to enjoy those happy times that they might not remember on their own. And don’t forget to cherish the moment as well. Even small victories are worth celebrating, and special moments you spend together need to be embraced and recognized. Getting through hard times is only possible if you also allow yourself to enjoy the good times.

Seek Counseling for Yourself
Last but not least, you cannot forget about your own health and well being. Spending your time and energy caring for an ailing loved on is extremely draining and emotionally exhausting. There is no shame in asking for help. Seek advice from someone who has been through this ordeal before, meet with a therapist, attend support groups, start writing in a journal…do whatever you need to so that you can express your own emotions, your fears, your hopes, your frustrations and your concerns. In order for you to be a supportive source of love to your parent you need to be emotionally stable yourself, and you will need help, and that’s okay.