An estimated 6.5 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and many are undiagnosed. Stigma and uncertainty lead many to avoid seeking medical attention for their symptoms. Yet proper diagnosis can lead to a better understanding of how to manage the disease for optimal outcomes. This World Alzheimer’s Month, Home Instead and Alzheimer’s Disease International are encouraging post-diagnosis support for people living with dementia and their loved ones.

Changes in an aging adult’s behavior are often evident to caregivers, family members, and friends who know them best. However, deciding what to do after observing signs of dementia can be complicated to navigate. A study by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that 30% of Americans would not talk to a relative about troubling signs of dementia, despite worries. Furthermore, 69% of Americans say they are concerned about ruining their relationship with their loved one who is showing signs.

“When observing changes in a loved one’s cognition, trust your instinct and seek a professional opinion,” said Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiving advocate at Home Instead. “Receiving any diagnosis can be overwhelming, but it can be validating to an older adult trying to make sense of their experience. Diagnosis is a powerful tool that allows people living with dementia to actively participate in the planning of their future. And many continue to live happy, fulfilling lives with adjustments that help them thrive.”

Recognizing and confronting early signs is a critical first step. Difficulty with daily tasks, such as telling time, holding or following conversations, getting overwhelmed by making choices, asking repetitive questions, and difficulty with depth perception are all common signs of dementia. It’s a common misconception that these symptoms are just a normal part of getting older. When noticing these signs, an open dialogue with the aging loved one and their healthcare provider can answer looming questions and benefit their path forward.

“When it is time to have this difficult discussion, loved ones should think carefully about their approach and handle the conversation delicately,” Hogan Eichenberger said. “Consider who the right person is to broach the topic, and lead with questions rather than what might feel like accusations. If your loved one is not receptive at first, be patient and continue to try.”

A medical diagnosis understandably triggers a wide range of emotions for the older adult and their loved ones. While dementia is daunting, Hogan Eichenberger outlines the benefits of seeking a medical diagnosis and provides guidance for initial steps.


Adapting to the New Normal and Expanding One’s Knowledge. A diagnosis offers the chance to adjust to one’s health condition rather than remaining in the unknown. Deconstructing preconceived notions of dementia not only eases hesitations but can better equip loved ones to provide support and quality care for life after a diagnosis.
Collaborating on a Plan for the Future. Dementia can feel isolating, but it does not have to be faced alone. Gather together with family and friends to hear directly from your loved one on how they wish to proceed with their care. Discuss how to handle difficult topics such as driving, medication management, and living environment. Assess their budget and daily schedule to prepare for the journey ahead.
Considering Continued Care. While there is not yet a cure for dementia, many care options are available to improve quality of life. Research is constantly broadening knowledge of the disease. Encouraging individuals living with dementia to seek out specialists could lead to opportunities to participate in clinical trials or access medication that eases symptoms. Professional care options may also be the right fit. Professional caregivers who are trained in person-centered dementia care help ease cognitive and behavioral symptoms and enhance safety in the home while preserving the loved one’s dignity. When considering continued care, it is helpful to gather any documentation needed, such as a form of identification or confirmation of diagnosis.
Accurate Diagnosis. Seeking a professional opinion may reveal causes for symptoms that are unrelated to dementia, such as a concussion, dehydration, or an infection. Many of these symptoms can be alleviated with proper treatment.

The process of having a dementia screening, receiving a diagnosis, and adapting to a new lifestyle is unique to each individual. Home Instead offers a range of information and resources. For more about the services, a caregiver can provide for seniors living with dementia, visit the Home Instead website today.

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