Dementia is an extremely emotional and uncomfortable topic. If you suspect a loved one suffers from a cognitive disorder or memory loss, you may not know how to approach the topic.
Read below for tips on how to start the conversation about dementia and getting tested for the disease.
You may have an inkling that an elderly loved one is suffering from behavioral or cognitive problems, but are not quite sure how to approach the topic or get help. People change in their later years, and sometimes they can decline in health and spirit faster than you expect; especially if the deterioration is related to Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia.
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It can be indescribably painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one with dementia, especially as the disease progresses, as minor forgetfulness can gradually morph into severe impairment and even personality changes. Chances are your family member already has suspicions that something is wrong, if they are at this stage. They may have anxiety and may even be trying to cover up the issue, rather than have a conversation with you — which can make the situation even more frustrating.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to have a productive conversation that leads to getting help:
Often times elderly parents don’t want to burden their adult children with their ailments. The parent-child role reversal is not easy, for anyone involved, which is why adult children need to voice their worry and concern by making the issue their issue to get dialogue started.
An example statement might be:
“I worry about you and seeing what the doctor says would make me feel better. I would rest easier knowing that we have the most up-to-date information about your health.”
It’s important to stress that many memory and function problems can be helped with proper testing and diagnosis and that quality of life is what’s most important.
Instead of just showing up for a routine checkup or other scheduled appointment to express concerns, you might want to either call or write the doctor in advance to prepare them for the visit. It’s important to do the following:
If you have HIPAA clearance, the doctor can include you in the conversation. If you don’t, you can still share pertinent information to help your doctor diagnose any problems.
If your family member or loved one doesn’t want to listen to you, recruit someone who they’ll listen to, whether it’s a attorney, clergy, friend, or other family member.
Don’t focus on the elderly loved one’s deficits, but rather discuss the importance of getting treatment that can help them retain their skills, memory and good quality of life.
Acknowledge that you’re on their side, you are their advocate and that you want them to live independently and happily.
It’s important to not use the terms dementia or Alzheimer’s as this can scare people and make them withdraw further.
It’s normal to be worried and fearful if you suspect something is wrong with your mind and everyday abilities. Be kind and human and acknowledge that you are also worried, which is why you want to get help.
A possible comment might be:
“I’m a little worried, too. If we can find out what’s behind the mix-ups, then the problem can be treated.”
Some people who suffer from cognitive disorders can display many challenging behavior problems, making it even more difficult for you to get help. The anger, confusion, fear, paranoia and sadness that people with the disease are experiencing can result in aggressive and sometimes violent speech or actions. If you respond with anger, they are less likely to listen to you.
It’s important to stay calm and approach slowly, from the front, using eye contact. Keep sentences short and simple and try to distract from the conversation with an activity or favorite food.
Get more communication strategies for dementia to help you confront, and treat, the issue.
If your family member resists the conversation and doesn’t want help, persist gently. You can drop the conversation topic for the time being, and approach it again another time with a new tactic.
Are you a caregiver? How did you start the conversation about dementia with your loved one? We want to hear your stories — share them with us in the comments below.