Living with dementia

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Changes in your abilities

The early stage of dementia marks a beginning that will bring changes for you and the people who care about you. Please note that the term "early stage" refers to people of any age who have mild impairments as a result of dementia. This is different from the term "young onset", which refers to people who have been diagnosed with dementia at a younger age than usual.

One way to cope with the changes you are experiencing is to focus on what you are still able to do, and to continue to participate in activities that are meaningful to you. We asked people living with dementia for advice on how to adjust to changing abilities and created some suggestions on their experiences.

On this page:

Some changes you may experience

Memory loss

You may find that you do not remember a person's name at the time, but the name comes to you later. Or you start talking to someone and in mid-sentence you forget what you were talking about.

Suggestions:

  • Use Post-it Notes to remember times, dates and locations of activities.
  • Post emergency numbers by the phone.
  • If you forget something, don't dwell on it.

Communication problems

You may find yourself reaching for a word, but it is not there. Or you intend to say one word, but a different word comes out.

Suggestions:

  • Take your time and tell others to give you time.
  • Don’t be shy to ask for help if you are having trouble with remembering a certain word.
  • Write things down in a notebook when you are in a conversation.
  • Tell people what helps you to be part of the conversation.

Difficulty performing tasks

You may find yourself getting frustrated trying to do things you used to be able to do, like following a recipe, maintaining a hobby, or balancing a cheque book.

Suggestions:

  • Do one thing at a time and take breaks.
  • Share your hobbies with a friend or caregiver who can help you perform activities. Dementia does not mean that you must stop doing the things that you enjoy.

Disorientation and getting lost

Sometimes people living with dementia become disoriented, even in familiar places. This means you might become confused or find it hard to get home.

Suggestions:

Problems with vision

You may be looking straight at an object, but you cannot identify it. For example, with money, you may have difficulty telling one coin from another.

Suggestions:

  • If you are experiencing difficulty with reading, try audiobooks or videotapes.
  • Ask the cashier to identify the correct coins.

Poor or decreased judgment

When judgment is affected in dementia, you may choose clothing that is not appropriate for the weather. Or you may not understand why it may not be safe for you to continue driving.

Suggestions:

  • It is important to focus on what you can do and to develop strategies for successfully doing the activities that you now find more difficult to do.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. If needed, consider asking for professional help.

Difficulty handling problems at work

A person living with dementia may find normal noise levels in the workplace too distracting or they may have difficulty keeping up with the pace of work and deadlines.

Suggestion:

  • Be realistic about your abilities. Talk to your manager about reduced hours and different tasks or opportunities.

Changes in mood and behaviour

It is natural to feel anxious, irritable and moody as you cope with the symptoms of dementia. Some people may also find that their personality is changing. As one person describes it, "You don't smile like you used to."

Suggestions:

  • Keep physically active.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Stay socially connected.
  • Acknowledge and share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust.
  • Try meditation or other stress-reduction techniques.
  • See your doctor, if needed, and take medications as prescribed.
  • Do things that bring you pleasure and meaning.
  • Take one day at a time.
  • Talking to others with similar experiences can help you feel less isolated. Consider joining an early stage support group.

Changes in physical abilities

Dementia can affect your physical co-ordination. For instance, you may have difficulty dressing yourself, walking up and down stairs, or reacting as quickly to situations as you once were able to while driving.

Suggestions:

  • Realize what you can do and the limits to this. Requiring help to get dressed or drive safely will not discredit your strengths, independence or quality of life.
  • Take the elevator or use the accessibility ramp when entering or exiting buildings.
  • Use safety features like handrails and grab bars.
  • Remove items that may cause tripping hazards.
  • Consider adding more lighting in the home so you can see things more clearly, especially around stairs, hallways and entrances.

Helpful suggestions for the early stage

Learn more about strategies that will help you live as well as possible:

 

References
1. By Us For Us© Guide: Memory Work Out (2006). Available through the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program. http://www.marep.uwaterloo.ca/products/bufu.html
2. By Us For Us© Guide: Managing Triggers (2007). Available through the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program. http://www.marep.uwaterloo.ca/products/bufu.html
3. Early Stage Support Groups in the North/Central Okanagan Region of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. (2000). Memory problems?

[This information provides guidance but is not intended to replace the advice of a health-care professional. Consult your health-care provider about changes in the person's condition, or if you have questions or concerns.] 


Last Updated: 09/11/17
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