How to support a loved one who’s facing dementia

For Dr. Matthew Beelen, a physician with the LG Health Physicians Alzheimer’s & Memory Care practice at the Lancaster General Health Neuroscience Institute, dementia is both personal and professional. As a geriatrician, he cares for patients and families who are facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia nearly every day. On the personal level, two of his grandparents died of dementia, and another is currently living with the disease.

“The number of families like mine who support loved ones navigating this challenging path is expected to increase,” said Dr. Beelen. “There are, however, actions that can be taken in the early stages of dementia, and as the disease progresses, that allow for the best quality of life possible.”

When is memory loss not a normal part of aging?
Dr. Beelen explains that many people, even some in the health-care field, may mistakenly believe that all symptoms of memory loss and cognitive change are a natural part of growing older. While it is normal to have some mild changes in memory and information processing ability as we grow older, these changes typically do not affect our day-to-day function. Any of the signs below may indicate that something beyond normal aging is occurring and that there may be a need for professional help. Early diagnosis allows for more and better treatment options.

10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Living with a dementia diagnosis
When someone receives a diagnosis of dementia—Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type—the first reaction is often fear and depression. It’s easy to focus on abilities that are lost or failing.

“Instead, emphasizing the many abilities they have retained, while taking proactive steps to help the individual adjust to changes that are happening or will develop in the future, can have a very positive impact,” emphasizes Dr. Beelen.

What can family and caregivers do?
Caregivers play a vital role in supporting the physical and mental health of the person with dementia. Activity, structure, simplification, and maximizing happiness all combine to preserve a higher quality of life—and for longer.