So you’ve noticed that the words don’t come as easily now. You see someone who looks familiar or you are looking for something particular at the grocery store but you just can’t recall the name. Not only that but for the first time in your life, you can’t seem to get your bills paid or do your regular banking. And on top of that, your family seems unhappy with how irritable you’ve become. Is it your Parkinson’s disease? Stress? Some other issue?
It’s time to seek medical advice. It may be that you are noticing the early stages of dementia in the context of Parkinson’s disease. Here are some tips that may be helpful.
(1) Seek medical attention. As mentioned above, it is important to bring these sometimes vague and inconsistent issues to your physician’s attention. They can then make sure that there aren’t any other conditions that may be causing your symptoms such as depression, vitamin deficiency, stroke, tumor or medication side effects. Once his clinical judgment confirms a diagnosis of dementia, he can then discuss what options you have regarding medications and monitor your ongoing care.
(2) Reach out, build your support team. This is a difficult diagnosis to navigate on your own. And because part of the dementia process often involves a change in personality and mood along with other disruptive symptoms, it is important to share your diagnosis with those that you are close to. They can then help you with some of the activities you may find more difficult and will be able to follow your condition closely and step in when needed as well as help you to manage your medical care.
(3) Stay active. Exercise makes a positive impact on many symptoms of Parkinson’s, both motor and nonmotor. There is some suggestion that this benefit extends to cognition as well. Regardless, exercise will improve quality of life in many areas. Staying active from a mental perspective is also important. Puzzles, music, reading, online “brain games” can all be beneficial.
(4) Build your medical team. There are many allied health professionals that may be able to assist you in maintaining your independence and safety. Occupational therapists can come to your home for example to suggest modifications that may reduce your risk of falls such as moving rugs, clearing clutter, improving lighting. They may also suggest grab bars in the bathrooms and a bed rail in an effort to improve the safety of your home. Physiotherapist can help with maintaining your mobility and keeping you active. Speech and language therapists can address the common issue of soft voice and also swallowing difficulties. And mental health counselors can be helpful as you deal with the increased emotions brought about by this diagnosis for both you and those close to you.
(5) Be safe! Consider registering yourself with a wandering registry usually kept by dementia organizations. In Canada and in the US for example. Perhaps a personal alarm that you wear in case you should fall or need medical attention while you are home alone may also be an option.
(6) Plan ahead. For the moment, dementia is a progressive condition and your ability to plan and execute personal or financial matters will likely worsen. For that reason, plan ahead. Consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning to draft your will as well as organize a living will and assign a power of attorney for personal care (someone who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.) Explore retirement communities or medical care facilities that you may need to transfer to if your care becomes more complicated.
Most importantly, live each day to its fullest. No one knows what challenges life may bring so do things that bring you joy and most importantly, spend time with those that you love.