Five Social and Emotional Benefits of an Early Dementia Diagnosis
By Michelle Palmer | 06/15/2021
Early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and dementia is a sticky subject. According to a recent study, nearly 90 percent of Americans said that if they were exhibiting confusion and memory loss, they would want to know if they had Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, over half of the people aged 45 and older with subjective cognitive decline indicated they had not talked with a healthcare provider about their questions and concerns.
Of course, no one wants to hear the news that they have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, as professionals we know that early detection can offer a number of physical, psychological and emotional benefits that won’t be available to families following a late-stage diagnosis.
From a medical standpoint, there may be numerous options available to individuals in early-stage dementia, including participation in clinical trials, interventions for reversible or treatable symptoms and, in certain cases, treatments that are more effective when started early.
But many professionals are also quick to point out that early diagnosis of dementia can also provide the opportunity to engage in activities that can have a truly positive impact on the well-being, stress levels and abilities of both the person with dementia and their families.
It’s important that we as professionals promote the importance of planning, knowledge and communication to individuals with an early-stage diagnosis, as these simple factors can make a very meaningful difference in the quality of life throughout the care journey.
5 Social and Emotional Opportunities Afforded by Early Diagnosis
Once older adults are aware of and have accepted their diagnosis, the opportunity exists to help them create a plan for their future that’s full of meaningful activities and hope. Here are five ways that people in early-stage dementia can take control, relieve stress and get the most out of their lives.
1. Demystify and destigmatize the condition
What’s the best way to make something less scary? Talk about it! Make sure the topic is not taboo. Open and honest communication with medical professionals, family members and friends helps to normalize the situation and boost everyone’s comfort level.
2. Gain knowledge through education
This is a critical factor in successfully dealing with any condition. The more the person with dementia knows about how the disease will progress, what symptoms to expect and how to prepare for them, the more control they will feel over their condition and the less stressful their life will be.
3. Find resources to help
There are dozens of resources from community and social service organizations available to families dealing with dementia, including caregiver respite, counseling and support groups, not to mention the myriad practical services like transportation and home health aides that can make a huge difference in day-to-day life. Identifying them early will help considerably if they’re needed in the future.
4. Plan future care
Open communication and realistic planning can make caregiver responsibilities much less ominous by sharing tasks among family members and friends.
5. Give the person with dementia a voice
Early diagnosis allows the individual living with dementia the opportunity to make their care preferences known and have a voice in their future. Early discussions about care also give families confidence that they’re honoring the wishes of their loved one.
Programs that Help Families Plan are the Key
It’s often difficult for families to manage these planning activities on their own. Programs like SHARE for Dementia from Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging are designed specifically to help families dealing with an early- or moderate-stage dementia diagnosis successfully plan for the future.
Through six guided counseling sessions, this evidence-based care-planning program engages both the person with dementia and their care partner in discussions about symptoms, communication, care values and preferences, along with healthy activities and planning for the future.
SHARE was designed to fill an important service gap by providing tools to address sensitive topics, making what was once an overwhelming and stressful experience more manageable by giving people with early-stage dementia and their families hope about their future. To learn more about SHARE for Dementia, visit benrose.org/SHARE.