If you have received a diagnosis of dementia, this can be a scary and upsetting time for you and your family. You may also experience feelings of shock.
Take the time that you need to adjust to this news. You GP will handle any treatment, medication or monitoring that you need, but when you feel ready, here are some other things that you might want to think about after your diagnosis.
If you are supporting a loved one who has been diagnosed, some of these suggestions can still be useful for you to raise with them.
Talk to friends and family
As soon as you feel able to, talk to friends and family about your diagnosis.
If you can, tell them what you have difficulties with (e.g. remembering what was said in your last conversation) so that they can be aware and helpful.
Bear in mind that they might have lots of questions, or on the other hand feel shocked by this news and not be able to say much at all. The most important thing at this stage is that you share the information so that you can start to move forward and begin living well with dementia.
People experience dementia differently, so if your friends and family already know someone with dementia, your experience may not necessarily be similar.
Let your friends and family know that while some things may be more challenging or take a bit longer, you are still you, and you want to continue to take part in activities and events and be a part of their lives.
Reach out for support
There are several organisations across the UK who can offer free advice and support about all stages of dementia, including Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK.
Sharing your feelings can help to answer questions, reduce isolation and get another perspective on any thoughts or issues you might have.
Find out if you are entitled to any benefits
Now is the time to investigate whether you are claiming all the benefits that you are entitled to, as it’s likely you’ll be entitled to one or more of the following:
- Personal Independence Credit
- Attendance Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Council Tax exemptions
- Income Support
- Housing Benefit
In the first instance, you could contact Citizen’s Advice to discuss your benefit options with you.
If someone is acting as your unpaid carer, they may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance.
Put your affairs in order
Make a will
Having dementia does not mean you cannot make a will, so long as you are able to understand and make decisions about the process without your dementia affecting this.
If you don’t already have a will and are able to make one, now is a good time. This is one less thing to worry about and means that you can be sure that your money and possessions will be protected when you die.
It is advised to consult a solicitor when making your will. Solicitors may ask for a medical opinion when you make the will, in case it is questioned in the future.
Organise your paperwork
Take time to check that your paperwork is in order and that everything is filed in places that you can easily access them. These could include:
- Mortgage paperwork
- Wills and legal documents
- Bank statements and information
- Insurance policies
- Details of any financial products that you own
- Car paperwork
Declare your diagnosis to the DVLA
It’s important to know that it’s a legal requirement to declare your diagnosis to the DVLA, and a fine is possible if you fail to do this. After this, unless your GP has advised that you should no longer drive, then the DVLA will send you a questionnaire to get permission to see your medical report.
A DVLA adviser will then make a decision as to whether you can continue to drive. If so, you’ll be issued a new driving licence, valid usually for a year but sometimes longer, to be reviewed once again on expiry.
If it is decided you cannot drive and you don’t agree with this assessment, you are entitled to appeal.
Arrange lasting power of attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document that allows you to appoint one or more people as attorneys who can be called upon to help with your affairs if you become mentally incapacitated as a result of illness or accident.
You can choose anyone you trust to be your attorney (usually a close friend or family member), so long as they are over 18.
Unless there’s evidence that your dementia currently means you cannot make your own decisions, you should be involved in the decision to arrange lasting power of attorney and they are not allowed to be made on your behalf.
You should be supported and encouraged to continue to make their own choices for as long as possible. Your GP can conduct an assessment to determine your level of capacity, if needed.
Following your diagnosis, It’s important that you look after yourself both physically and mentally. This can include:
- regular check-ups with your doctor to:
- monitor your condition
- arrange any medication and treatment
- discuss if you experience any low mood or depression
- help you feel informed and in control
- listening to your body, resting when you are tired and being honest with yourself if you feel you’re overextending.
- eating healthily and getting plenty of fluids. In terms of a diet that may help, the best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat with an emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.
It has been proven in a variety of studies that exercise for people managing dementia can be significantly beneficial.
It’s suggested that even mild physical activity delays a decline in thinking skills, lowers stress and may even reduce the risk of falling. It’s also thought that exercise may protect brain health through the benefits it provides to the cardiovascular system.
Engaging in a short exercise class, brisk 20 minute walk, or some gardening will be of large benefit to your cognitive as well as physical health.
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