Family Conversations: Talking About Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias

A wide variety of conditions can be the cause of short- or long-term memory loss. Thinking and behavior changes are normal as we age – but what if you believe you are noticing more than just forgetfulness? How do you bring up the serious topic of Alzheimer’s or other dementias with your family or the loved one who is causing you concern? Click here to read about 10 warning signs that may differentiate dementia from ordinary aging.

Two things stop us from taking the next step: First, voicing concerns makes them more real, and that can be scary. Second, we’re concerned about how our family or loved ones may react. They might become angry with you, or they may simply brush you aside as being over-reactive. Either way, it takes a lot of courage to bring up the topic – but waiting to let things take their course can cause unnecessary anguish.

Here are the assessment questions the Alzheimer’s Association suggests you ask yourself – write down your answers so you can refer to them when you do take the plunge and talk to your family members.

  • What changes in memory, thinking or behavior do you notice? What have you noticed that’s out of the ordinary and causing concern
  • What else is going on? Various conditions can cause short-term or long-term memory loss and affect thinking or behavior. Prescription or OTC medications can also cause memory problems.
  • Are there any health or lifestyle issues that could be a factor? These may include family stressors or medical problems like diabetes or depression.
  • Has anyone else noticed changes? Has a family member or friend expressed concerns? What did he or she notice?
  • Are any of these changes a sign or symptom of Alzheimer’s or another dementia?

If you’ve noticed changes in a family member, confide in another family member you think may be most supportive. Or, perhaps a family friend might be a better resource. Others who have contact with your loved one causing you concern may have noticed the same changes – but may also be reluctant to take action. You may start the conversation by saying, “I’ve noticed these (specific changes) in Mom. I wonder if you’ve noticed anything yourself.”

While it’s great to get support, it might be overwhelming to your loved on to be approached by more than one person. Especially if they are experiencing cognitive changes, the appearance of “ganging up” may backfire. Also remember that, very often, a component of dementia is paranoia, so your loved one may feel attacked far more easily than you anticipate.

It is important, though, to have the conversation as soon as possible. For many struggling with dementia, late afternoon and evening can be difficult. Pick the time of day when you’ve noticed they are at their best – typically mid-morning. Find a comfortable, private spot for your discussion, probably in their home, where they are most familiar with their surroundings.

It’s very possible that they are concerned about themselves. Some questions the Alzheimer’s Association suggests you might ask include:

  • I’ve noticed [blank] in you, and I’m concerned. Have you noticed it? Are you worried?
  • How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself.
  • I noticed you [specific example], and it worried me. Has anything else like that happened?

If you find your loved one is also concerned about themselves, offer to see the doctor together. Only a medical professional can give the full medical evaluation necessary – and remember that there are many things that cause memory loss. The condition may NOT be Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It’s very possible that it’s treatable, and that your loved one is suffering unnecessarily. Stress the peace of mind your loved one will have when they have some answers from their doctor.

Assisting Hands Home Care serving Columbus, OH has professional caregivers trained in dementia care. If your loved one needs help, get the peace of mind you need, knowing they are being cared for in the best way possible. Get in touch today for a home care needs consultation.


Need information and support? Call the 24/7 Helpline at the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 and speak with a master’s-level clinician about your concer