Should I get counseling if I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease, like many chronic illnesses, affects you physically, emotionally and mentally. It also affects your family, friends or other caregivers.

It is important to realize that you are not alone. If you feel you need help coping, or your healthcare provider feels that you or your caregiver need help coping, please consider seeking counseling.

To achieve the highest quality of life, seek counseling as soon as possible after your diagnosis. Counseling helps you:

  • Gain insights into your behavior
  • Make choices to change some behaviors (such as getting more exercise or being more social)
  • Learn how your behaviors and disease affect others around you

The decision to seek counseling is not an easy one. Too often, people do not get help because they feel guilt, shame or embarrassment. Counselors are well skilled to help you work through your emotions. Counselors help you understand your disease, manage your grief and other emotions, and provide a realistic picture of future challenges you and your caregivers may face. Working with a trained mental healthcare provider will help you and your loved ones develop a comprehensive plan to meet your current and future needs.

Where do I start?

Call your local office of the Alzheimer’s Association and ask if they work with any therapists near you. Therapists include family therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals. Also, attend community-based presentations and seek out support groups for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These forums offer opportunities to learn more about your disease, meet others who share your questions and concerns, and perhaps gather the names of local therapists and other healthcare professionals others have found helpful. Tip: check to see if a particular therapist accepts your insurance before making an appointment.

When you meet your mental health professional, he or she will ask you and/or your caregiver to describe why you want counseling and what you hope to gain from counseling, ask what you already understand about your disease, and how you are coping with all the information. You may be given a question-and-answer survey.

Your therapist will set care goals. The best care plan will include your loved one(s.) Any recommendations should also be coordinated with your medical care and the care plan of your neurologist. You, your caregiver, and the counselor can discuss:

  • The best type of counseling to meet your needs
  • Treatment settings (you alone, family members, with others facing similar challenges)
  • How often you should go to counseling
  • Where to obtain additional support

What are the types of counseling?

The following list briefly describes common types of counseling. These can be used together or alone, depending on the treatment plan.

  • Crisis intervention counseling. Contact your counselor or physician if you feel distressed. You can also speak with someone at the National Alzheimer’s Association Helpline (800-272-3900). If you are feeling suicidal, call 911 or go to your local hospital emergency department.
  • Individual counseling. This is an opportunity to meet one-on-one with a counselor. Counseling often takes place in the privacy of the counselor's office. Some problems are very personal and difficult to discuss with others present. For example, you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or grief in dealing with your Alzheimer’s disease and might feel more comfortable talking alone with a counselor.
  • Family therapy. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease affects the entire family. There may be financial strain or problems with getting all of the household tasks done. Family therapy can help family members share concerns with each other in a safe environment. It can also help them adopt ways to help another family member cope better. Family members can learn how certain actions and ways of communicating can improve or worsen problems, as well as learn more useful ways of communicating.
  • Group therapy. In group therapy, people discuss their problems together in a session guided by a counselor. Members of a group often share the same problems and concerns, but not always. The group is a place where people can confide with others who understand their struggles. Group therapy is useful for a variety of challenges.
  • Self-help and support groups. This type of counseling involves a network of people with similar problems. These groups usually meet regularly. Some are run by counselors or other professional and some are run by volunteers.

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