Having a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and being an alcoholic means a person has a "co-occurring" disorder. It is very important that you talk with your doctor about your alcoholism, even if you have completed a 12-step program or rehabilitation, so a doctor can devise a treatment plan.
Emotions are everywhere with such a diagnosis, which can cause mental and physical distress. For the alcoholic, these emotions can be magnified, so you first need to learn how to cope with feelings while staying clean and sober. It is helpful to keep a journal, which can help relieve tensions and express emotions. Writing can capture moments that occur during the journey of the illness and can serve as a means to jog your memory later or to preserve important memories so that you can relive them.
You may want to seek a professional counselor who specializes in treating this co-occurring disorder. Joining a support group can be advantageous, not only for general support but also to keep you from isolating yourself. Continue interacting with others, as this support can be your window for shared conversations, stories and all the emotions you may be experiencing.
Through sharing, you can learn tips and strategies to manage and adapt your lifestyle. Also continue attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help maintain sobriety as you deal with the difficulties of the disease process.
It is frightening as the disease progresses and your memory begins to fade, and that can be compounded by alcoholism. Deal with these memory changes by writing things down, making lists, having a schedule posted of things to do and keeping a calendar on the refrigerator to remind you of meals, medications or appointments. Label everything in the house — bathroom, phone, medications, etc. Keep photos of family members around you, and label with their names.
While these memory tips and strategies are important, you also must ensure your home is safe as possible. Remove clutter, install grab bars in the bathroom and use appliances with automatic shut-off features. Moreover, protect yourself from potential fraud by taking your name off mailing lists and listing your phone number on the Do Not Call registry.
You will need to facilitate some financial planning, giving someone power of attorney and making decisions on wishes for personal health care. Share feelings with your family and/or friends. Individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease who are alcoholics tend to withdraw from close relationships either to shield family members from emotional pain or as a mechanism of personal suppression. This withdrawal can have negative outcomes for the alcoholic, and ways of coping will be diminished, which could be dangerous for keeping sober.
Give yourself time to grieve, reflect and perform tasks that will become more difficult over time. Try to find hobbies or recreational activities to keep engaged and give life meaning. Activities can help overcome frustration that may lead to the temptation for alcohol as a coping mechanism.
By getting prepared, seeking support from family, friends and other support systems, and, most of all, being proactive in your self-help program, you will be able to navigate your disease a little better. You are not alone. Over 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and there are resources, programs and clinical trials to assist in maintaining a quality of life for as long as possible.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.