November is Alzheimer’s awareness month, so I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about dementia and the importance of planning for your future. First and foremost, some forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. We have all misplaced our keys or put our wallet in a different place, forgetting momentarily where we left it. When forgetfulness becomes more serious, losing your way while driving in an area you visit frequently; not taking medication because you forgot if you took it or not, it starts to affect your normal daily routine and it’s time to follow up with your doctor.
There are several factors that contribute to a diagnosis and determine which type of cognitive impairment you may be facing. Getting the diagnosis does not mean you immediately lack capacity to make decisions for yourself. What it does mean is that it’s time to talk to your family, loved ones and potential caregivers about what you want for the future. Now is the time to openly discuss your medical care moving forward, and who you want to oversee that your wishes are being met. It is so important to be clear about what you want for yourself before your cognitive impairment worsens, so your loved ones don’t carry the burden of “guessing” what you may or may not want.
The discussion about your future is not always easy and should not be limited to just medical care or designated decision makers. You should also talk about things that give you quality of life. So, if spending time with family is important and brings you joy, encourage family members to continue to visit even as you become more forgetful, and record those moments you want your family to remember for years to come. Being open and honest with your loved ones about what you want as dementia progresses will help them make better choices. Some people say when I get to a certain point, I would understand if I needed to go into a nursing home. Others may say, I want to stay in my home for as long as I can, so they move forward with making their home as safe as possible (putting up railings, installing a ramp, picking up throw rugs to prevent falls).
Doing things now, before your cognition declines, can keep you in control of some of those decisions and can help you maintain your independence for awhile longer. The more proactive you are, the more secure your future will become.