What Should a Caregiver Who Is Diagnosed with Dementia Do?

If you are a caregiver of someone with dementia and you feel that you, too, are showing signs of the disease, what do you do? This isn't as uncommon as you may think, since at least three circumstances that increase one's risk for Alzheimer's are at play here.

The first is that many caregivers take care of spouses, and likely fall into the same age group. Since age is a big risk factor for dementia, your risk has been increasing over time as you've cared for your mate.

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The second factor is genetics. If there is a history of early on-set Alzheimer's in your family, and you are caring for that parent, there is a chance that you, too, carry that gene.

The third factor is stress. While stress can cause dementia-like symptoms without being dementia, studies show that stress hormones can actually contribute to the disease.

If you find yourself exhibiting disturbing symptoms that you notice yourself, or friends and family gently bring up to you, don't immediately decide that you, too, have dementia. Other issues that can make you feel as though you are having dementia symptoms are medication reactions or interactions, infections and lack of sleep.

But you should still see your doctor, and perhaps get a referral to a specialist who diagnoses dementia daily, since some of the symptoms are tricky.

If you are diagnosed with dementia, it's important to take these steps while you can still think clearly:

Make sure that adult children or other trusted parties have the ability to help you. This means signing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) forms that allow certain people to see your medical records and those of your care receiver. Get other legal documents updated as well.

Begin making lists and notes. These should be for your own use and those who may be caring for you and the other person with dementia.

Contact your local Alzheimer's organization. Ask about resources in your community, as well as specifics about the disease. Ask for advice on how to tell your family about your disease, if that is difficult for you. The Alzheimer's Association website is also a helpful source of information.

Prepare to hire in-home help. This can reduce your stress load, especially if the person you are caring for lives with you. Help can include housekeeping and cooking, but also should include help with the person you assist so you can take care of yourself.

Work with the person you have chosen to be your Power Of Attorney for finances. Talk with that person about taking over the checkbook and paying your bills when that becomes necessary.

With family members, tour assisted living facilities with memory units. Many assisted living centers have them. You may be able to move your loved one into a memory unit, while you live in a regular apartment in the same facility until you need memory care. This is a proactive move, and can be difficult, but in the end it could be the best thing for you both.

Beware of denial. You needn't feel guilty or ashamed if you have received a dementia diagnosis, but if you have been having those feelings, consider seeing a therapist. Be proactive in dealing with it so you don't waste precious time.

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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