maintaining-friendsJenny was upset. Something wasn’t right, she just knew. Her best friend had missed their regular lunch date again and yesterday stopped in the middle of making a cup of tea, totally confused about what she was doing. Then the news came – Anna has Alzheimer’s disease.

Has this happened to you? Has someone close to you been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or one of the other dementias?

Jenny asks Dr. Allison Lamont: “What can I do for Anna? What can I say?”

Dr. Lamont: First and foremost, Anna is still Anna! She is now ‘Anna who has to deal with Alzheimer’s’, something we are all a bit afraid of. Did you know that in surveys carried out by both the Daily Mail (UK) and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion (USA) the greatest fear for people over 65 is dementia – it is feared more than cancer, and even death itself?

Now that Alzheimer’s (and other causes of dementia) is being diagnosed earlier in the disease’s progression, it may well be that the most outward sign of Anna’s Alzheimer’s is her memory problems. It’s a progressive disease and the way it progresses isn’t the same for everyone – either in the ‘order’ in which things happen, or the speed of the deterioration. You won’t know now how it will be for Anna.

So it is all-important to support Anna – not to treat her as incompetent or ‘different’ to the person prior to hearing the diagnosis.

So what can Jenny do for Anna?

Dr. Lamont: ‘In the course of my work I speak to many people who are in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s. They speak of the need for their friends to treat them ‘normally’.

First of all, assure Anna of your lasting friendship – that you will not be one of the ‘disappearing friends’ who are, sadly, all too common around dementia. Anna will be in desperate need of people about her who will stay the distance – and it may be for many years. Meet with Anna for lunches the way you always have. Reminisce about the good times you have shared – keep those memories alive for your friend.

Acknowledge the diagnosis. It is all too easy to pretend everything is normal rather than confront the uncomfortable truth. If Anna cries, cry with her. Then dry the tears and assure her you are right there whenever she wants to talk about how it is for her. Help her keep other relationships alive, too. Have fun with other friends, too – store up good memories for Anna.

Help Anna’s caregivers, too – it is a wonderful gift to give them time out to do shopping, go to the hairdresser and socialize away from the responsibility.

As the effects of Alzheimer’s become more noticeable, ask Anna what she would like you to do:  read the newspaper or a good, engaging book? A good old sing-song together? Going through photo albums? Sorting craft items?

If Anna wants her lunch half an hour after breakfast (and repeats the demand many times!), it isn’t helpful to keep telling Anna she had breakfast half an hour ago – she doesn’t remember it now. It is SO much better to enter Anna’s world and maybe say something like, “Let’s just do this for a little while, and then I will get us something to eat”. If Anna keeps repetitively asking what day it is, it is because she needs to know and has forgotten. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the information simply does not stay with her.

Helping to keep Anna as independent as possible at each stage of the disease is the gift of a true friend. Work together to make a cup of tea, make scones (even if she can now just handle the mixing bowl), or go for a walk together.

For anyone who develops Alzheimer’s disease, the world changes; and so does the world of family and friends. Coping with Anna’s changes and patterns of behaviour is hard. There will be times when it would be so easy to show irritation, impatience and bewilderment as to how this sharp and intelligent person suddenly can’t remember the simplest things. Your continued, caring friendship will make a world of difference.

Memory Foundation was established by two sisters, Dr. Allison Lamont and Gillian Eadie. Their mother, Jeanie, developed Alzheimer’s in her final years.

If you would like to read their story, it is available as an inexpensive e-book. It is a practical guide in the ways they found of handling their Mum’s dementia – and the things they wished they had known then. The book is entitled: When Children Become Parents: Understanding and Coping with Alzheimer’s.

For a wonderful two or three minute video about exactly how Alzheimer’s progresses and what it takes with it at various stages of the disease, go to the link at the bottom of the Dementia page onDr. Lamont’s website.