One of the most difficult ongoing conversations with an elderly loved one concerns a decline in their memory skills or cognitive ability. At least five million people in the United States alone suffer with dementia related to advanced age, which includes Alzheimer’s disease. If your aging parent or other family member experiences increasing problems, a frank yet gentle approach is called for.
Signs of Dementia or Cognitive Decline
As a loved one ages, it is important to look for early warning signs of dementia so you can begin the conversation as early as possible. Some of these early morning sides include:
- Loss of short-term memory
- Inability to adapt to change
- Increased struggling to find the right word
- Mood swings, and especially depression and apathy
- Becoming confused in a conversation or repeating themselves
How to Start the Conversation About Dementia
When dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or unusual cognitive decline begins, the person experiencing it will probably not notice that it is happening. This is not their fault, and you should expect that there will be resistance to the idea that they are not quite as sharp as they used to be.
If possible, begin having the dementia conversation with the help of the individual’s physician. While aging parents may balk at the idea of their child telling them they need help, they may be more likely to trust someone with a medical degree who is not personally involved in the relationship.
If, however, you are not part of the older person’s medical care, you will need to bring up the topic on your own or with other family members. It is best to start early rather than later, as it necessitates immediate action to maintain the person’s safety and well-being.
Continuing the Dementia Discussion
From the very first time you sit down with your elderly parent or other loved one and say, “Mom or Dad, we are starting to get a little worried,” the conversation about dementia must continue. Because there will be resistance – after all, a person with cognitive trouble may not realize anything is wrong because of the problem itself – it is important to take a gentle yet firm approach.
One very important thing to remember is that it is not necessary to convince the person with dementia that they have a problem. If there is a formal diagnosis, they should be told, of course, but if it is simply a decline, trying to convince them over and over will be an exercise in frustration.
What is important at this time is communicating their need for extra help without insulting their sense of independence. Do not speak down to elderly people with dementia or treat them like they are children. Offer assistance with tasks that they are having problems with, but let them handle as much as they can on their own for as long as they can. Medical care, safety, and financial security are three areas where oversight and assistance will be especially necessary.
In a caring and involved relationship, the subject of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease should be broached when necessary, but not harped upon. Put a positive focus on the things the person can do and give gentle guidance and help with the things they cannot. Above all else, continue to love them the way you always have.