My sister was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. What are some common emotions she may experience during these first few weeks after her diagnosis?

Your sister mostly likely is feeling much fear about her diagnosis, and a range of emotions will follow as she sifts through mounds of information she may discover.

Aside from fear, one of the most common emotions is grief: the loss of self and identity.

Since Alzheimer’s affects character and personality, her self-identity is threatened, which can lead to the buildup of more feelings, such as confusion, frustration and uncertainty. You can ease her anxieties by being supportive and by focusing on what she can still do instead of what the disease is doing to her. Share favorite activities and overlook any mistakes in her communication. Additionally, it might be beneficial for your sister to keep a journal, which may help her come to terms with her growing loss of identity.

Your sister may also deny the diagnosis at first. Though she may recognize that she is having cognitive issues, her denial of the diagnosis can be a self-monitoring strategy to maintain self-esteem as she forges ahead to be seen by others as a person, not an object. Eventually, however, she may come to terms with her illness, and the acceptance will bring her more peace.

As difficult as it is to hear the diagnosis, your sister is probably experiencing some relief. The majority of individuals who are suspicious of their growing memory problems, and internally know something is wrong, find the diagnosis as a burden lifted from them, i.e., the cause of their symptoms have finally been confirmed, which makes the need for support and therapeutic interventions justifiable.

Because stigma surrounds an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, your sister may be reluctant to talk to you or others about it. Her fear of how others will perceive and/or treat her may cause her to isolate herself and spend most of her time alone. This is detrimental in the disease process. It will help her self-esteem and her ability to cope with all the changes if she stays socially connected for as long as possible.

Be prepared as she experiences sadness, depression and/or anger. Validate these feelings, as they are certainly understandable, and allow your sister to openly discuss these emotions as she leans on you for support and reassurance. She may find professional counseling helpful and joining a support group might be beneficial as well, as she can share her experiences with others who are journeying in the same way.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.