Dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

It’s often difficult for a physician to deliver the bad news to a patient and family that a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, because the doctor knows that currently there is no cure. For doctors who are dealing with very early stage dementia or Alzheimer’s patients, research indicates that 50 percent chose not to share the diagnosis because the patient is still highly functional.

Imagine being the patient receiving the terrible news – you have Alzheimer’s. For some their immediate response is denial, because they can’t remember that they are having difficulty remembering – it’s often a normal response. But it might be even worse not being told, as that denies the patient valuable time to do the absolutely necessary planning required as the disease progresses, and mental debilitation becomes severe.

There are some things that you, as the care provider, must do if your loved has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The first is to accompany your loved one to all future doctor visits. Do this because people with memory loss, irrespective of their denial of the diagnosis, may not understand or recall what they were told by the doctor.

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Second, be a good “reporter.” Be sure you remind and encourage the patient to share everything that’s going on with the doctor. If necessary, you tell the doctor. It matters in the treatment plan.

Regardless of the speed of the progression of the disease, it does continue to debilitate the patient. There are a number of things that caregivers should be aware of which, while not the same for everyone with the disease are often times part of the Alzheimer’s path that you, as the caregiver, and your loved will travel together. Here are behaviors that are typical of many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

LACK OF AWARENESS – In earlier stages of the disease, many people with Alzheimer’s disease aren’t at all aware of the impairment that may be quite evident to others. They may dismiss it as part of natural aging or refuse to accept their new reality.

DENIAL – This reaction is common upon the receipt of many forms of bad news. It’s a defense mechanism and very typical – who wants to simply accept a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s? Patients don’t always recognize their decline in memory until it becomes so common that they too realize that things have changed for them. Over time, feelings of denial tend to lessen and eventually evolve into acceptance, but in many cases, it’s not without a valiant and difficult struggle.

RELIEF – For some patients finally being told that there is a medical reason for the problems they’ve been having is a relief. Their signs and symptoms are validated and they now know what the cause has been for the changes they and their loved ones have noticed. It’s a tough diagnosis to accept, and learning that there is no cure and little that can be done to slow the process is often devastating news.

CONCEALMENT – It’s not uncommon for people with any physical or mental debilitation to try to hide it. They may react by reducing the number of social encounters because they’re fearful of how others might react to them. Embarrassment, anger, frustration and anxiety can be part of this process, and if the loved one chooses social isolation out of embarrassment, that can lead to more problems such as depression.

Professionals in the field often suggest that the caregiver get involved with a local support group. Some groups provide a room that allows the patient to accompany the caregiver and be with others facing similar challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to seek groups for support and assistance. These groups help you to understand that you’re not alone. Empathy and understanding often come out of these meetings as others attendees often share their experiences and explain how they handled the challenges they faced. Take each day as it comes, and just do the best you can.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant & expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare & Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at