How to Talk to a Loved One About Dementia, Alzheimer’s Concerns 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Asian daughter spending time with her elderly mother at home
The first clues might be subtle: keys that keep being misplaced, appointments that are missed with more frequency, or a stove burner that is repeatedly left on. Other signs might be more dramatic: not recognizing a friend while walking in town or getting increasingly upset about not being able to remember things. The signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia sometimes appear gradually. Other times, it feels like a switch has been flipped. Either way, it’s important to be able to sit down and talk to a loved one about concerns of possible dementia or Alzheimer’s. We have some tips for how to make that conversation easier on you both.
Alzheimer’s vs. dementia. First, it’s important to understand the difference between these two terms. Dementia is a broad description. Under its umbrella, there are several types of symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, behavior changes that fall under the wide label of dementia include:
  • Noticeable changes in behavior
  • Changes in language or speech patterns
  • Inability to focus
  • Memory decline
  • Poor judgment
  • Decrease in reasoning skills
In contrast, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. In the United States, more than six million people are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s, with the majority of them being 75 or older. Because Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, its early symptoms often revolve around a person’s ability to think, reason and remember.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging, are:
  • Everyday tasks become problematic. This could mean someone has difficulty paying their bills, cooking their dinner or driving to the store.
  • Confusion and repetition: A person could ask the same questions repeatedly.
  • They may get lost easily, even in someplace they are familiar with.
  • Lost items are common.
  • Anger and violent behavior are not uncommon as symptoms get worse.
How to start the conversation. First, patience and sensitivity are key to starting this conversation. It’s important to find out whether a loved one is having memory issues due to an accident or illness, or if it has been a situation getting progressively worse. If the loved one allows someone to go to a doctor’s appointment with them, that can be one place to gently start the conversation about what signs have been noticed. Otherwise, family members may want to work together to sit down with a loved one and talk about what they are noticing. A medical appointment can be set up after that conversation. While there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, there are things healthcare providers can do to ease the progression.
Some tips:
  • Stay positive during this conversation. You are asking some gentle questions to get them thinking about changes in their mental health.
  • Understand they may be confused or upset about the changes in their own life.
  • They may not like the idea of someone taking a caretaker role if they are used to being the caretaker.
  • Don’t interrupt or accuse. Let them talk.
  • Suggest they take a family member to a doctor’s appointment.
  • If they won’t talk to you or brush off your concerns, find another friend or family member to talk to them.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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