Discussing Alzheimer’s with Family Members and Friends

Stigma against Alzheimer's prevents seniors from getting diagnosed.An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be isolating, both for the person with the illness and for their caregivers. Illness can often create distance between those who were once close, and the nature of Alzheimer’s disease compounds the problem. Others are unsure if the person will remember them or if they’ll behave inappropriately. Still others may remain in the person’s life, but not acknowledge the disease at all, and thus leave a big silence about a major life event. Many people who suspect they have Alzheimer’s avoid an official diagnosis because they fear the effects on their social world and the painful feelings of rejection and loneliness that would come with it.

However, it is vital that patients get a diagnosis so that they can receive proper care. If someone close to you is going through this important turning point, here’s how you can help.

Listen before judging. A time like this is ripe for family conflict. Should the person get diagnosed and when? If they do have Alzheimer’s, how will the family plan for the future? It may be that the Alzheimer’s patient has disagreements with the rest of the family, or people within the family are fighting among each other. You will have your own opinion on the issues at hand, but make sure you’re hearing out the other side and giving their point of view fair and compassionate consideration. Hold back on stating your viewpoint and ask others for theirs first, to make sure they have a chance to give input. A third-party mediator may be able to help if you worry that conflict will get out of control.

Be supportive. One of the best things you can do for your loved one is to help them think through all the choices they have to make at this time. This may require you to keep your own emotions in check at a time when you might be feeling a lot of fear, so it may not be easy. Keep in mind that your loved one will likely be afraid of seeming to be needy or a worry-wart. Encourage them to talk through their concerns rather than keeping them private.

Stay calm. At this time it’s very important to be patient, and not all of us count this as one of our strengths. But keeping your cool can go a long way towards maintaining a positive relationship with your loved one that will keep them open to your much-needed help. Remember that pointing out that you were right or expressing negativity may not be the most productive course of action. Put a focus on keeping a good relationship.

Using these skills will put you in a position not only to support your loved one, but also help you bridge the gap between them and family and friends. You can play an important role in keeping the peace.