If you or someone you love is living with Alzheimer’s disease, you will experience good days and bad days, but an overall emphasis on living a healthier life can help prepare you to live well and focus your energies on what is most important to you.
A healthy life with Alzheimer’s
Living a healthy life with Alzheimer’s disease involves examining the factors that may impact your experience. The health benefits associated with maintaining your physical, emotional, social and spiritual health may improve your daily life.
By educating yourself about the disease, developing effective coping strategies and planning for the future, you can create a solid foundation from which to deal with new challenges and changes.
Caring for your physical health
Take care of your physical health with diet and exercise. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you live well with your diagnosis for as long as possible.
Use these tips to maintain your physical health:
- Get regular check-ups. Build a good relationship with your GP.
- Establish a routine for diet and exercise.
- Create a care team that understands your physical health needs and can help you monitor or respond to any changes that occur.
- Listen to your body! Rest when you are tired and be mindful of overextending yourself.
- Drink only minimal amounts of alcohol.
- Do not change medications and/or dosages without first checking with your doctor.
Multiple studies have shown the benefits of physical activity for individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that mild-to-moderate physical activity may help delay or slow a decline in thinking skills, reduce stress, possibly help improve symptoms of depression, and may even reduce risk of falls.
Some evidence suggests that exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow. Even stronger evidence suggests exercise may protect brain health through its proven benefits to the cardiovascular system. Talk with your doctor about how to make exercise a part of your overall wellness plan.
You may want to try a group exercise class, where you can connect with others who enjoy similar activities. Aerobic exercise, increasing your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes, provides the most benefit for physical and cognitive health. Try vigorous walking, bicycle riding or tennis.
If exercise was a part of your life before your diagnosis, keep doing it. An active lifestyle may help to preserve your sense of independence and identity. If you are not an active person, consider including exercise as a part of your daily routine. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Although a balanced diet has not been proven as an effective treatment to address symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, also may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.
There is no conclusive evidence that brain exercises can slow or reverse cognitive decline. However, learning new information, taking a class, or challenging yourself to try a new hobby or activity may help increase your brain activity. Some types of mental exercises may have the added benefit of connecting you with others socially, which also may improve your mental health. If you enjoy mental stimulation or brain exercises, keep doing them.
Caring for your emotional and psychological health
Coming to terms with a serious diagnosis like Alzheimer’s disease involves embracing changes in your emotional state. You may experience unwanted feelings and emotions, which may be triggered by your relationships with others, experiences of stigma or your frustration with daily changes. One of the most important things you can do is talk about your feelings with someone you trust such as your spouse, partner, religious advisor or counsellor. Sometimes a different perspective can be helpful as you learn to adjust to living with the disease and cope with difficult feelings.
At times, your emotional state and responses may be the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. You may have frustration, anger or confusion, and have no control of your emotions. As a result, you may be unsure of yourself around family and friends or in social situations. Learning to express yourself can help you cope with emotional responses, and help those around you react in the most appropriate ways.
Try these tips for enhancing your emotional health:
- Allow yourself to experience a range of emotions.
There is no right or wrong way to feel.
- Learn about how others living with the disease are overcoming stigma to support their emotional health.
- Consider meeting with a trusted friend or advisor.
- Join a support group of others in the early stages
- Maintain close relationships.
This will provide you with support when you feel overwhelmed by emotion. Others can provide you validation.
- Establish a social network that includes others living in the early stage of Alzheimer’s.
Get help for stress
Each of us handles stress differently but it can diminish your quality of life if not managed properly. It’s important to recognize the warning signs of stress:
If stress becomes too much for you, or you find you’re coping with additional alcohol or medication, see your doctor. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.
- Denial: Are you having a difficult time acknowledging your diagnosis and the effect it will have on you and your family?
- Anger/frustration: Do you find yourself frequently angry with others because they don’t understand what you’re going through?
- Social withdrawal: Do you find yourself withdrawing from friends and family, and activities that once brought you pleasure?
- Anxiety: Do you find yourself feeling frequently anxious about the future?
- Depression: Are you experiencing any symptoms of depression?
- Exhaustion: Do you feel so exhausted that it makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks?
- Sleeplessness: Do you lose sleep frequently because of the concerns you have?
- Irritability: Do you feel moodier than usual or frequently lose your temper?
- Lack of concentration: Do you have a difficult time staying focused on tasks or conversations with others?
- Health problems: Are you experiencing physical symptoms that may be taking a mental or physical toll?
Tips to reduce stress
- Identify sources of stress in your life.
Remove yourself from these situations whenever possible.
- Address the triggers that are causing you stress, and accept help with these situations.
Work on changing how you view the situation. Even the most difficult situation may have both negative and positive aspects. Challenge yourself to look for the positive whenever possible.
- Establish boundaries and let others know your limits.
What are you willing to tolerate and what are you not? Be as open as possible about this with others.
- Learn what works best to relax you.
Use these techniques regularly when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
- Talk with a trusted family member or friend about how you’re feeling.
- Change your environment.
For example, if you are in an environment that has too much stimulation that is causing you stress, find a quiet place where you can relax and regroup.
- Take breaks when you need to.
And get plenty of rest to help conserve your energy.
- Let it go.
If something becomes too difficult for you, come back to it later.
- Use relaxation techniques.
- – Exercise
- – Going for walks
- – Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal
- – Taking long baths
- – Working in your garden
- – Listening to music
- – Watching a television program that you find relaxing or enjoyable
- – Yoga or meditation
- – Deep breathing exercises