Should I get counseling if I have an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), like many chronic illnesses, will affect you both physically and mentally. It will also affect 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 caregiver feels that you or your caregiver need help coping, please consider seeking counseling.

The decision to seek counseling is an important step. Too often, people do not get help because they feel guilt, shame, or embarrassment. By deciding to get help, you have made a choice to feel better and to improve your life. Counseling services should be chosen with care to meet the needs of each specific situation. Working with a trained mental health care provider will help you develop the right treatment plan.

Where do I start?

First, the person with AD will have an "assessment," a review of their mental health. The assessment is done by a person trained in mental health care. These specialists include family therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals. (Your health care provider can refer you and/or your caregiver to a mental health care professional.)

The assessment is used to diagnose the problem and determine the best treatment. You and/or your caregiver will be asked to describe why you want counseling, any symptoms you have (emotional, mental, and physical) and your medical history. You may be given a question-and-answer survey.

What happens after the assessment?

Once you complete the assessment, a treatment plan can be chosen. At this time, you, your caregiver, and the counselor can discuss:

  • The best type of counseling
  • The best setting for counseling (counselor's office, outpatient clinic, hospital, residential treatment center)
  • Who will be included in your treatment (you alone, family members, others with similar problems)
  • How often you should go to counseling
  • How long counseling may last
  • Any medications that may be needed

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 — In cases of emergency (such as initial despair over diagnosis), the counselor will help you get through the crisis and refer you to further counseling or medical care, if needed. These services are provided by community health agencies, helplines, and hotlines.
  • Individual counseling — The person meets one-on-one with the counselor. Counseling often takes place in the privacy of the counselor's office. Some problems are very personal and difficult to confront with others present. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or grief in dealing with your Alzheimer’s disease, this type of counseling may be appropriate.
  • Family therapy — A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can affect the entire family. There may be financial strain or problems with getting chores done. Family therapy can help family members resolve issues with each other. It can also help them adopt ways to help another family member cope better. Family members can learn how actions and ways of communicating can worsen problems and 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 problem, 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 problems.
  • Long-term, residential treatment — The person receiving therapy lives at a treatment center. The length of stay can vary, depending on the treatment program and progress of therapy.
  • Self-help and support groups — These include a network of people with similar problems. These groups usually meet regularly without a therapist or counselor. There are self-help groups for those coping with Alzheimer’s disease.