Your loved one just heard three difficult words – “You have dementia.” Then your head starts  swirling with a million questions.
“Why did this happen to my dad?”
“What could we have done to stop it?”
“What should I say – or not say – to my loved one?”
Suddenly you’re a caregiver. Now what?

While symptoms of dementia can come and go, there is still no cure. Experts say the steps the person living with dementia and their family take now can affect their loved one’s well-being as they move forward. Here are some steps to soften the blow of a dementia diagnosis.

Learn about dementia. Understanding what to expect will help you plan for care and transitions and recognize your loved one’s capabilities throughout each stage of the disease. Despite its many challenges, caregiving for a loved one can also be a deeply rewarding experience.

Involve your loved one in decision-making for as long as possible. In the early stages, support your loved one’s independence and self-care, but be prepared for their cognitive and physical regression to ultimately require 24-hour care.

Get organized. Make a financial plan and put directives into place for financial and health care matters. Create a living will and powers of attorney for both health care and finances. 

Bring in experts. Financial planners, elder law attorneys and aging life care professionals (geriatric care managers) can help you create your plan and fine-tune it as the situation changes. Create a support network of family, friends and professionals who will be able to step in as more help is needed.

Don’t take on the caregiving journey alone. No matter how dedicated you are, you will need some help in caregiving in order to take care of your own health and other obligations. The sooner you establish a support network, the easier the caregiving journey will be. Support could involve help from other family members, professional in-home help or even moving your loved one to assisted living.

Treasure the time you have with your loved one. Although this is a painful time in so many ways, a diagnosis of dementia does offer you the opportunity to savor the time you have left with your loved one. Instead of focusing on the abilities your loved one has lost, celebrate what they can still do. And don’t pass up the opportunity to say your goodbyes, an opportunity that many people who lose someone suddenly regret not having. While no one wants to have to make the decision to move an aging parent out of their home, there may come a time when that choice is in their best interest.

Your discussion with a loved one following a dementia diagnosis can be one of life’s most difficult conversations. But with a little preparation and a lot of listening, you will get through it. This will help you set the stage for a different, yet still rewarding, relationship with someone you treasure.