Living with Alzheimer’s can be an uphill task- Not only is it natural to find it difficult to come to terms with your diagnosis, it can take a toll on your emotional health too- as you experience a volley of emotions ranging from helplessness to anger, frustration and sadness. If you have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, you have a complete separate set of questions and uncertainties to face suddenly- What will happen if I lose my income? How shall I plan the upcoming expenses? What about my children? And so on. It is important to educate yourself about the disease, develop effective coping strategies and plan for the future. In either case, the most important part of coping with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is taking care of yourself. With a little bit of conscious practice, you will realize that despite the myth and stigma that probably surrounds you at this time, it is possible to live a quality life with Alzheimer’s. Living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of your physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being will not only help you focus your energy on things that are really important to you but also greatly improve your everyday life with Alzheimer’s disease.
Taking care of your physical health and well-being
- Diet- There’s no direct link between food and Alzheimer’s, but a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet comprising lots of vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts and olive oil is considered good for protecting the brain.
- Exercise- Mild to moderate physical exercise has a positive impact on your brain functioning. It helps delay or slow decline in thinking skills, relieves stress and even helps you combat symptoms of depression that might set in. There’s also evidence to suggest that exercise may protect brain health by rejuvenating your cardiovascular system. An active lifestyle also does wonderful things to your self-image and sense of independence and identity. You could join a yoga or an Aerobics group (that has the added advantage of connecting you to so many more people) or you could try some vigorous walking, bicycle or tennis.
- Healthy lifestyle- Follow a regular routine for diet and exercise. Be regular with your check-up and don’t change any medications or dosages without consulting your doctor. Have a support system or a care team that understands your health needs and can help you tide over changes when they occur. Don’t stretch your body whatsoever- when your body demands rest, rest! Limit alcohol intake.
Taking care of your mental and emotional health
- Managing emotions– Alzheimer’s disease will cause you to experience a range of emotions ranging from sadness and a sense of loss or helplessness at your own failing capacities which in turn might lead to frustration and anger, sometimes suspicion or feelings of depression. Allow yourself to experience these emotions- often you will have no control over them. Understand that there’s no right or wrong way to feel but also be mindful of your expressions and understand that the disease is what’s causing them. Many times because you aren’t in control of your emotions, you may feel unsure of talking or interacting with people around you- this might further push you into a shell, which is in reality no solution. Rather, learn to express yourself- this can help you cope with your emotional responses and also help your near and dear ones react appropriately to them. For instance if you’re feeling suddenly irritated, it might be because you’re actually feeling guilty of not being able to do a lot of things you could earlier manage by yourself. Talk to others and clarify this feeling- many times that guilt is unfounded. Clarifying them will put your negative thoughts and responses to rest.
- Handling stigma– The best way to do this is to talk to someone you trust- a spouse, a friend or a family member or you can also join a support group of others in the early stage. If at any point you feel your sadness is overwhelming you or tuning into depression, consult a doctor immediately.
- Enriching your social life- Joining a support group can help normalize your experiences as group members will truly understand what you’re undergoing. Also, try to maintain close relationships, shun your inhibitions and get involved in social activities- it’s a good idea to start with something you really like (a hobby or passion) so you sail smooth.
- Reaching out for the inner You- Get into the practice of Yoga, meditation and other things that connect you to your spiritual self. Your job, your accomplishments, your various roles as a parent, spouse, boss etc., that you fear of losing now are all just part of you. Connecting with the real you brings a sense of peace and balance.