At first, you might think your friend is just having a few bad days with forgetfulness, repetitive stories and anxiety. Then comes a dementia diagnosis.
What is next for your friendship?
"Stand by your friend,” says Arthena Caston, 56, of Macon, Georgia, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease five years ago. “And when I say stand, stand by your friend through thick and thin. Because it's not always going to be a great day."
Caston, a member of the Georgia board of the national Alzheimer's Association and a former member of the association's Early-Stage Advisory Group, is married with two grown daughters. She retired from her job in customer support shortly after her diagnosis. She now walks her two dogs, makes cards and scrapbooks, and educates people about dementia. Caston depends on her husband, Virous, her daughters and her two best friends for support.
“My true friends, they stand in front of me to lead me when I have a problem. They stand beside me when I need them to walk with me. And, they stand behind me where I need them to push me to get up,” she says.
Still valued and appreciated
A dementia diagnosis can unsettle a friendship. But research shows that socialization and connection are vital for patients. A 2012 report by researchers at Queens College in Kingston, Ontario, published in the Journal of Aging Research, found it was “extremely important” that people surrounding Alzheimer's patients reassure them that “regardless of their cognitive abilities, they have a place in society and their identity is valued.”
But people lose friends when they get a diagnosis because of misconceptions, stigma or even fears for themselves, says Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support for the Alzheimer's Association.