Alzheimer's / Dementia

5/6/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

An adult child may find out from a doctor that a parent has dementia even before the parent knows. It’s a topic fraught with emotion, and most children dread the thought: how, after all, do you tell your parent they have dementia? But there are no options in these cases; the parent has the right to know and should be fully informed of the situation.

A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease puts an immediate burden on both the adult child and the parent as each one tries to come to grips with the challenges they will face. Here are some suggestions for making a difficult conversation productive and positive.

Decide who should have the conversation

There might be a close friend or family member who has had a positive influence on your parent. Think about asking that person to either accompany you or have the conversation with your parent.

Have the conversation immediately

Uncomfortable conversations do not get easier with time. As soon as you receive the diagnosis, make plans to tell your parent they have dementia. This disease is a progressive disorder, so get on with the discussion before the symptoms get worse.

Find a quiet place to talk

Distractions such as extraneous noises, music, and talking can create anxiety and confusion. Going to a quiet place will keep you from having to raise your voice. Speak calmly, slowly, and clearly. Pause between sentences to give your loved one a chance to absorb what you have said.

Identifying Early Signs of Dementia

Understand that the conversation may not go well

Someone experiencing early dementia might not see the symptoms in themselves. Even though the diagnosis is accurate, your loved one may show signs of denial and withdrawal and be unwilling to discuss it. Or they could even get angry or defensive. Forcing the conversation will likely be ineffective. Instead, take a break and plan to reopen the discussion after your parent has had some time to digest the news.

Be supportive

A diagnosis of dementia is going to be frightening for your parent. Holding a hand or touching an arm as you tell them shows as much support as words. It can have a calming effect at a time of turmoil for them. Also, let them know that they won’t be alone on this journey, and you will be there to support them throughout.

Avoid role reversal

When you tell your parent they have dementia, do not start treating your parent as a child. Keep reminding yourself that this person is still your adult parent and that it is an illness that is damaging their ability to communicate. When you continue to treat your parent as an adult, it will make it easier on you, too.

Be patient

Telling them they are wrong or admonishing them for forgetting something will give your parent anxiety and make things worse. There is no place for impatience and anger in this conversation. Remain calm and kind!

Enjoy the silence

Don’t worry about lulls in the conversation. While silence may be awkward in a regular discussion, this one is anything but typical. Relax into those moments of silence, and understand that these quiet interludes could be having a calming effect.

Do not ask your parent to remember something

As you carry on this challenging conversation, you might tend to ask your parent if they remember a person or event. Keep in mind that they are in the throes of dementia and do not remember things as they once did. All you would accomplish by asking them to remember something is to embarrass or frustrate them.

When you tell your parent they have dementia, adjust your expectations

The days of quick-witted banter between you and your parent may have passed, so you will need to change your approach to this and future conversations. Focus and concentration will be the keywords of your interactions with a loved one from now on. And adjusting your strategy and expectations will help you get through the difficult moments and enjoy the good ones.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff