How to Talk with Friends and Family about a Loved One's Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Sunrise Senior Living  |  December 28, 2018
How to Talk with Friends & Family About a Loved One's Alzheimer's Diagnosis
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When a senior loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it can leave families feeling worried and overwhelmed. Even for spouses and adult children who knew the diagnosis was likely, having it confirmed can be heart-wrenching.

While you and your senior loved one might feel like you have no control over what happens next, there are steps you can take that will keep you feeling in charge and empowered. It all begins with communication.

Talking about Alzheimer’s        

Sit down as a family. If your senior loved one is still in the earlier stages of the disease, you need to give them an opportunity to share their wishes. Together, you can create a plan.

Keep in mind that this will probably take more than a single conversation. You’ll also want to learn more about the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease and what to expect at each stage.

Finally, make sure you decide how your loved one wants to tell people about their diagnosis—and who they want to tell. While it might be helpful for close neighbors to know, your family member may not be ready for that.

Sharing That a Family Member has Alzheimer’s

Our first suggestion is not to rush your loved one. They likely need time to digest the news and decide how to proceed. Unless their safety is an immediate concern, let them lead. They might choose to tell people closest to them on their own, or they might ask you or another loved one to do so.

It will also help to have information about the disease available when you talk to family and friends. While many people are aware Alzheimer’s disease exists, they don’t understand it. It is a complex disease that involves more than just forgetfulness and memory loss.

This page from the Alzheimer’s Association website is especially helpful. You can share the link with people as you discuss the diagnosis. It covers topics ranging from symptoms and brain changes to current research.

How to Talk with Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s

As you or your loved one begins sharing the news, you’ll likely have people ask you for advice on communicating with the senior. As the disease progresses, your loved one’s verbal skills may become impaired.

Here are a few tips to help loved ones communicate:

  • Approach from the front so you don’t startle them
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Maintain eye contact, kneeling if necessary
  • Smile and use an empathetic tone

Another resource you might find helpful is an episode of The Senior Caregiver podcast featuring Rita Altman, senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise. In “Episode 1: Stages of Alzheimer's & Ways to Communicate,” you will hear tips for communicating using both verbal and non-verbal techniques at each stage of the disease.

We hope this information makes it easier to explain this news to others while also helping friends and family stay connected to your loved one.

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