Pat Summitt, former coach of the championship University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, didn’t reach the pinnacle of achievement in her field by giving up. But now, as she fights her latest opponent — early onset dementia — she calls upon another life lesson she learned early on her parents’ farm: You may not be able to control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you respond to it.
Summitt says that for her, that means working as part of a team that now includes her son, Tyler. A diagnosis of dementia means that you will need to change the way you live. But it’s important to remember that you need to continue to live life to the fullest extent possible. Take advantage of those things you can do today and prepare now to minimize the effects of the disease tomorrow.
For starters, make sure that your symptoms are those of dementia and not the natural signs of aging. Also, be sure to make an appointment with your physician. If dementia is the diagnosis, here are five tips to help you stay active:
1. Tell your story.
Not only will it help others who may be coping with dementia, but it will help keep your mind sharp and elevate your mood. Write about your past, going as far back as you can remember, while also writing about your current experiences. It’s an activity that can help bring your family members together. Your family can enjoy reading about your memories while also helping you fill in any “blanks” — such as the correct word or spelling — that may occur.
2. Get out and meet other people who are like you.
If you’re feeling friendless, ask your doctor for the names of support groups. Talk to your clergy leader about making connections in your faith community. Check in with your local council on aging, which will likely have a list of activities.
3. Flex your mental muscles.
Keep your brain active with games and puzzles, such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Find a good source for daily games or seek out a group that regularly meets to play engaging board games.
4. Consider getting a pet.
A cat or dog not only provides good companionship, but the daily responsibilities involved in their care — brushing, bathing, playing catch, or just having someone to curl up in your lap at night — will help keep you active. Before selecting a pet, Madeline Vann, MPH, advises that you check the pet’s temperament and level of care requirements. For instance, a small dog, like a Yorkie, will not require as much work as a collie, which will need to be groomed often.
5. Let your loved ones help you.
If living independently for as long as possible is your goal, work with your loved ones to take an inventory of your home. Home safety is a big issue for people living with early onset dementia, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. You may be at greater risk for falls or wandering than others. Ask yourself: Where are there fall risks at home? Install grab bars in the showers and make sure that stairs are clearly marked.
Finally, Pat Summitt offers this advice as she takes on dementia, the game of her life: “Maintain a positive attitude” — even as you cope with change.