What to Do If You Think a Loved One Has Alzheimer's or Dementia

Daughter Worried about Her Mother's Memory
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Have you noticed your mother’s memory declining? Do you question your husband’s judgment in areas that he has always been very competent in until recently? Has your sister been behaving strangely lately and falsely accusing you of taking her money?

If you’re in that uncomfortable place where you suspect your loved one may have Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to know what to do. It’s a touchy subject to raise, and one that requires careful thought before doing so.

Start by considering these four suggestions:

Note especially if the changes you’re seeing are more sudden, which may indicate a delirium or other physical problem that may be reversed with treatment. It’s critical that a physician evaluate your loved one as soon as possible in this situation.

If the symptoms have been developing more gradually over time, it is more likely that they’re related to a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Talk with a Couple of Other Close Family Members or Friends

Check in with others who know your loved one to see if they’ve noticed any changes. Do this in a respectful, confidential manner to avoid unnecessary hurt or embarrassment.

When Alzheimer’s strikes, although many people become quite skilled at covering their memory lapses, they find it difficult to maintain that around those who know them well. It’s often helpful to verify if others have made similar observations; they may have been questioning the same thing and not have known whether to raise the concern or ignore it.

Of course, your objective here is not to spread a rumor or gossip, but rather to collaborate with those closest to your loved one.

  • Ask Your Loved One How She Feels Her Memory Is Working

Some people are aware and worried about their memory. They may have noticed some lapses and might be relieved to talk about it.

Others, of course, may become angry, defensive and deny all concerns. Knowing your loved one as you do, you can consider if a direct and gentle approach would be effective or not.

When you talk with her, be sure to choose a good time of day for your family member, and use "I statements", such as "I'm a little worried about you, Mom. I'm wondering how you're doing. I thought I noticed you having a harder time lately with your memory and wondered if you've noticed the same thing." This approach can decrease someone's defensiveness and is generally more effective than a statement like this: "You seem like you're having trouble with your memory."

You also might want to avoid using the "Alzheimer's" word for now since it's not known if your loved one has this diagnosis or not. Consider instead using words like "memory problems".

  • Persuade Him to Go to the Doctor

Your loved one needs an assessment by a physician. Sometimes, other reversible conditions might be causing problems with cognition, such as normal pressure hydrocephalus or vitamin B12 deficiency. Thyroid problems or medication interactions can also affect memory and judgment. An evaluation and diagnosis is important so that proper treatment can be provided.

You may find that your loved one is resisting going to the doctor. If this is the case, you can explain that it's time for an annual check-up.

If you're not able to get your husband to agree to go the doctor, you could talk to your physician's office ahead of time about your concerns and ask them to call your family member to schedule a doctor's visit. Also, in some families, there's one person who seems to be able to be more persuasive than the others; if so, don't hesitate to ask that person for assistance so that your loved one can get the assessment and care that he needs.

There are also visiting physicians in some communities who will perform house calls to evaluate and treat their patients.

A Word from Verywell

It's normal to feel anxious about broaching this concern with a loved one. For many, talking about memory problems or a potential dementia diagnosis is a very sensitive subject. Provide plenty of reassurance to your loved one that you're seeking his best interests and that you'll be there to support him, no matter what the outcome.

Finally, remember that if the diagnosis is dementia, there are several benefits of early detection, which sometimes can include a better response to medications and other non-drug treatments

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Telling Others About an Alzheimer Diagnosis. 

Alzheimer's Society Ontario. Common Questions

National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging.Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help

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