A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease typically comes after the symptoms have been showing, yet finally knowing what is behind one’s atypical behavior can be devastating to the individual and their family. Despite the fact that this is a progressive degenerative disease, some experts and those living with Alzheimer’s, are looking for positives and ways to live differently.
A Change in Perspective
Dr. G. Allen Power, MD, is a geriatrician, professor and author who specializes in dementia. According to Dr. Power, the old way of looking at dementia (Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia) was to “focus on loss…viewed mostly as progressive, incurable with a focus on associated burdens. These attitudes lead to stigmas that all too often leads to people being left out from regular life.”
He proposes a new definition: “Dementia is a shift in the way a person experiences the world around her/him.” When the diagnosis is viewed through this lens, Dr. Power says it can lead to seeing the person as someone with “changing abilities” instead of having a fatal disease and allows them and their loved ones to accept a “new normal” instead of hoping or trying to change the person back to who he or she was before the illness.
No doubt there are still challenges and to be clear, everything is changing.
Meet Someone Living with Alzheimer’s Disease
Meet Wendy Mitchell, a woman in her mid-60s who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in her 50s. She lives in the United Kingdom and though she retired early after her diagnosis, isn’t just withering away.
Wendy had her first book published, “Somebody I Used to Know” and blogs regularly at “Which Me Am I Today?” where she shares personal experiences and resources for others. Her sense of humor remains in her plucky posts. “Luckily the part of my brain that allows me to type hasn’t broken yet and I find that easier than talking,” she writes. “…although we’ve been diagnosed, people like me still have a substantial contribution to make.”
She wrote her memoir with the help of a ghost author and she has started a “Good Life with Dementia” course that is “created by people with dementia, run by people with dementia, for people with dementia.” Her book, which came out in February 2018, is now on a bestseller list
Alongside frustrations with healthcare and strategies for maintaining some bits of memory daily, Wendy shares tales of trips to the seaside, meeting new people and enjoying their company, and the delights she finds in social media.
“What I want is not sympathy,” she writes on her blog. “What I want is simply to raise awareness.”
In order to live a full life with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Power recommends a focus on the individual’s well-being. This approach has these attributes:
Proactive and strengths-based
Emphasis on achievable, life-affirming goals
Can bring about important new insights
Puts the illness in context of the whole person
Surely there will be more to address than a change in attitude and approach; yet this is for better communication and understanding between all parties involved after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Thinking of it as living with Alzheimer's, not against it.