Can You Still Live Alone if You Have Early-Stage Alzheimer’s?

When Kimberly was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she took it as a devastating blow. She experienced the gamut of emotions anyone would feel after such a shocking discovery about oneself, including shock, denial, and depression. It took Kimberly more than a year to accept what the doctor had said— that she does in fact have Alzheimer’s disease and that it only gets worse as it progresses. After the initial shock wore off, having strong support from her family, friends, and community helped her go from asking “why me?” to “what’s next?” Now, Kimberly organizes her days and stays involved with the activities she loves. She’s also taken steps to prepare for the future.

Have you been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, or a frontotemporal disorder and live alone? Or, do you have mild cognitive impairment (MCI)? If so, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently introduced helpful tips on how you can cope with changes in memory and thinking, prepare for the future, and stay in your home for as long as possible.

Make Everyday Tasks Easier

Many people with early-stage dementia continue to manage their everyday activities and can do so for up to 2-4 years following the initial diagnosis, as that is the typical duration of early-stage Alzheimer’s. During this time, however, it’s important to look ahead to what will inevitably come—a time when performing daily tasks will become harder. Even if you have Alzheimer’s, you can still learn ways to cope with it. The sooner you adopt new strategies to help you with the changes you will experience, the more time you will have to adjust to them. Here are some tips:

– Get more organized

Write things down, such as to-do lists, appointments, and events in a notebook or calendar. An example could be a “memory bench,” or an entryway table that can be used by a person living with dementia to organize the important things he or she will need for each day.

– Remembering to pay bills

Set up automated payments to pay your bills correctly and on time without having to write checks. Research how to go about automatic bill pay services for your utility providers, insurance companies, and mortgage company or leasing office. You should also consider asking someone you trust (i.e. the person you named as your agent for your Financial Power of Attorney) to help you pay bills. That person could review your financial statements and inquire about anything unusual.

– Meal delivery and grocery shopping

Many stores, such as Giant, Wegmans, and Costco, offer grocery delivery services and these and other stores can all be accessed through Instacart. You can also order fresh or frozen meals online or by phone (see DC area list below). Meals on Wheels America (1-888-998-6325) can deliver free or low-cost meals to your home, too, if you are eligible and this service sometimes includes a short visit and safety check. Alexandria seniors can also take advantage of Groceries to Go.

These are other healthy meal preparation/delivery options in the DC area:

Healthy Fresh Meals
Mighty Meals
Galley Foods
Territory

– Managing medications

Several products and apps can help you manage medications. Healthline recently named these among the top choices:

• Medisafe Medication Reminder: This medicine reminder is a simple smartphone app that tracks your prescriptions and reminds you when it’s time for a refill. It’s the highest rated and most downloaded medicine reminder on the Apple store. Get it for iPhone or Android.

• The Tabtime Vibe Vibrating Pill Timer Reminder is a modern version of the classic plastic pill case that can fit in your jacket pocket or purse. For less than $20, the Tabtime has five compartments with different alarms that beep and vibrate when it’s time to take your medicine.

• The e-pill Multi-Alarm TimeCap Medication Reminder works well for all patients that take one (or more) medication several times per day. It fits on a standard pill bottle and has many features to remind you to take you medicine, such as an alarm, a last-opened time stamp, and a missed dose indicator.

– Getting around

If you drive, you may become confused, get lost, or need increasing help with directions. Talk with your doctor about these changes. Take seriously family and friends who express concerns about your driving. For those who are still driving, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recommends older adults enhance their safety by participating in a CarFit event to ensure their car’s adjustments are expertly arranged for them.

Giving up driving and learning how to use public transportation may be the safest option for someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. For non-drivers, other forms of transportation may be available in your area, or you might want to consider a car or ride-sharing service.

Washington, DC: The District offers a variety of transportation options to help residents who are elderly or disabled get around the community.

Northern Virginia: Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria, and the Fredericksburg area offer a variety of transportation options for seniors.

Maryland: Montgomery County, Maryland has several options for transportation services for seniors.

– Combat Loneliness

Since many seniors live by themselves, joining villages, taking yoga classes at the local recreation center, or even getting a roommate can combat loneliness and keep them feeling connected and emotionally healthy. There are even online resources such as the Elder Orphans Facebook Group and the Virtual Senior Center offering support and chat rooms.

Scan Your Home for Safety

Making minor changes in your home can create a safer environment, as well. These are some ways you can do so:

• Remove clutter by getting rid of unused items and extra furniture, by selling, giving them away, or donating them to charity.
• Remove throw rugs and other obstacles that could be tripping hazards and cause falls.
• Install an automatic shut-off switch on the stove. If necessary, have your stove disabled. Instead, use a microwave or electric device with an automatic shut-off, such as a slow cooker or rice cooker, to heat up food.
• Set the water heater at 120 °F to avoid scalding tap water. Add nonskid mats to showers and tubs.
• Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in or near the kitchen and all bedrooms. Check that the batteries are working. Set reminders to check the batteries every 6 months.
• Consider safety devices such as fall monitors, emergency call buttons, and GPS tracking systems. Ask a relative or friend to help you buy the right devices and set them up.

For more home safety tips, check out this Home Safety Checklist for Alzheimer’s Disease.

For additional resources, Eldercare.gov provides a directory of health agencies, resources for financial assistance, elder abuse prevention, and legal help. It’s also a smart idea to contact local and national aging councils to learn about programs they offer. In addition, be sure to check out our list of Trusted Referrals of Other Senior Serving Professionals on our website.

Plan for the Future

As you can see, it is still possible to live alone if you are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there will come a time when you will need more care and support than you can provide for yourself in your home. If you or a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you will face special legal and financial needs as your disease progresses. The best time to plan is now, while you can still contribute to important decisions about your future and your loved ones.

At the Farr Law Firm, we assist clients and family members of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias through the process of Life Care Planning and Medicaid Planning (also called Medicaid Asset Protection Planning). Our goal is to help protect a family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If your family is facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Medicaid Planning Fairfax, VA: 703-691-1888
Medicaid Planning Fredericksburg, VA: 540-479-1435
Medicaid Planning Rockville, MD: 301-519-8041
Medicaid Planning Washington, DC: 202-587-2797

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