Dementia is a term used to describe a loss of memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to impact everyday life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia is not a single disease, but an overall term – like heart disease – that covers a range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s.

Early symptoms include persistent memory loss and difficulty completing simple tasks, such as recording a TV show. If you have questions or concerns about symptoms, call your doctor. Dementia is typically diagnosed by a neurologist, neuropsychologist, or geriatrician. Neurologists and neuropsychiatrists deal with brain or cognitive (mental) function; a geriatrician specializes in the care of the elderly.

Take Action

If you’ve just been diagnosed with dementia, it can feel overwhelming. Be sure to ask your doctor questions about available treatments, ways to cope, and ways to get support. You will need to make a detailed care plan to make sure you are getting the help you need. Use this action plan to help you get started and work with your doctor to complete it together at your next visit.

Here are some things you can do to help you live a healthy life.

Your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan that could include medication to better manage your symptoms. Remember to ask your doctor about possible clinical trials you may be able to join. Medications may help you with your memory, sleep changes, and common behavioral changes, such as feelings of sadness and irritability. You can also work with your doctor on practical care plans, like developing a home safety checklist.

No matter what type of dementia you have, the key to managing it well involves taking the time to care for your mental and physical health. Combining these healthy lifestyle habits with medication, online support, and similar resources can help you feel your best.

  • Break a sweat. Regular cardio exercise elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body, reducing cognitive decline.
  • Hit the books. Learn new skills, whether it’s taking an online class, trying out a new recipe, or playing a new card game.
  • Stop smoking. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow. Certain diets, including the Mediterranean diet, may contribute to risk reduction.
  • Prioritize sleep. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
  • Manage stress. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Try to manage stress by exercising and connecting with friends and family.
  • Stay socially engaged. Connect with friends and loved ones via Zoom or on the phone, and get engaged. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir. If you love animals, consider volunteering at a shelter. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
  • Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic.

Being diagnosed with dementia can be overwhelming, but you are not alone. There are many online resources to help you with everyday issues, such as managing care with friends and family, navigating the holidays, resolving conflicts, managing finances, and more. If you’re having mood changes, be sure to talk to your doctor.

It might be helpful to talk with a mental health professional or others who understand how you feel. Your doctor can recommend a mental health professional for you and may know of a local support group as well.

Along with your doctor and care team, it’s important to think about sharing the news with friends and loved ones. Think about what’s right for you in terms of timing; some people wait, while others tell loved ones immediately. Be sure to answer questions, share educational brochures, and think about how your loved one may react.

It’s also important to put legal, financial, and end-of-life plans in place so you can participate in making decisions that help family and friends know your wishes. Learn more about how to plan for your future.

Always talk with your doctor about your condition, any concerns you have, or changes to your health.


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