Dementia and Alzheimer's: The Tough Conversation

Two people sharing their concerns about an aging loved one

The hardest conversations are always the ones we need to have the most. As we are starting to get older, more families will have to learn to work with a declining mental state. When a loved one is starting to show signs of dementia and Alzheimer's, the best thing you can do for them is to act fast. Early detection is the difference between a quick decline and years of love and happiness with a loved one. The conversation with the affected loved one can be hard, but it’s always worth having.

Knowing what you are looking for is the first step. Memory loss, be it big or small things, is always the first sign. However, everyone forgets things from time to time, so there are other things to watch for. Disorientation, becoming lost in familiar places, or forgetting how they got somewhere is a big red flag that something may be wrong. A slip in normally solid judgement is also important to watch for. That slip will also put them at higher risk for scammers. Declining spatial skills is also a red flag, as it can make them a risk on the road.

That said, for many the biggest change is a shift in personality. Happy people becoming withdrawn and insular, or even the other way around can indicate an onset of something serious. Even highly motivated people can suddenly loose the ambition that they once had, even well into their golden years. All of these are major signs that it’s time to have the conversation about their declining faculties.

Once you decide to have the conversation with a loved one about dementia and Alzheimer's it’s time to prepare. Plan ahead for the conversation. Anticipate a place and time you can have the conversation where both of you are in a good mood. Inform other loved ones that you are going to talk to them, offer them the chance to be there with you. Keep track of everything you have noticed about the changes and bring that list with you.

When it comes time to talk to them, express concern without making accusations. Be gentle, but honest. Inform your loved one that they have been acting differently, and you are concerned. The most important thing to remember is that you do not want to make an accusation, but rather share information. They are not at fault for their decline and will need every bit of help, love and support they can find in the days and weeks to come. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation in multiple parts, if they become overly agitated it’s absolutely ok to come back to it another day, as long as you DO go back to it.

Once you and your loved one are on the same page, it’s time to talk to their doctor. If you are permitted, go with your loved one to their next doctor’s appointment and speak with them directly about your concerns. The will likely want to run a series of tests that will range from simple lab tests to brain imaging. They will also likely recommend a few more traditional tests to rule out other causes for the decline. Be prepared to be wrong! Some illnesses can generate similar symptoms to dementia without it being neurological at it’s source.

After that, it’s all about planning for the future! When you know what you are up against, reach out to friends and family that you trust to let them know about what’s going on and how they can help. That is also a perfect time to re-visit incapacity and estate planning to ensure that your loved ones wishes are carried out in the future. If you have any questions about this, or proceeding with your own planning, don’t hesitate to reach out to Middleton Law Offices to see what we can do!

Categories: Elder Law