How to Tell Family Members That Mom or Dad Have Alzheimer’s Disease
When a senior loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it doesn't only affect the person receiving the news. It affects the lives of family members, friends, and especially the person caring for the loved one. If this person is your parent, life will drastically change for that person and you as well.
As a caregiver, once you educate yourself about the behaviors, side effects, challenges, and changes that will occur in your elderly parent, the burden might fall on you to tell family and friends.
Caregivers must realize that family and friends may not necessarily be prepared for this kind of news and might not be educated about the disease. Lack of knowledge can lead to them staying away, not wanting to think about it, or other behaviors that can cause stress for the caregiver.
After you process and deal with the Alzheimer's diagnosis, here are some tips for telling your family that your elderly mother or father has Alzheimer's disease.
When to Tell Family and Friends
When soon-to-be caregivers learn that an elderly parent has Alzheimer's, they may wonder when and how to tell family and friends. Some concerns about sharing the news include:
- How will others react to the news?
- Will they treat your elderly parent differently?
- Is there a right way to talk about it?
Alzheimer's disease is hard to keep secret. Realize that family and friends often sense that something is wrong before they are told. Think about the following questions:
- Are others already wondering what is going on?
- Do you want to keep this information to yourself?
- Are you embarrassed?
- Do you want to tell others so that you can get support from family members and friends?
- Are you afraid that you will burden others?
- Does keeping this information secret take too much of your energy?
- Are you afraid others won't understand?
When the time seems right, be honest with family, friends, and others. While there is no single right way to tell others, here are some approaches to think about.
In society, there is a stigma about Alzheimer's. Some people feel stigmatized and ashamed by having a family member with Alzheimer's disease. Others are afraid their own time will come and may see your situation as a foreshadowing of their future. As a caregiver, here are some effective ways to communicate with family and friends:
- Be honest. Explain the behaviors and symptoms that your elderly parent had been exhibiting and how the diagnosis was made by the doctor.
- Educate. Explain that Alzheimer's is a brain disease, not a psychological or emotional disorder. Share any educational materials that you have compiled. The more that people learn about the disease, the more comfortable they may feel around the person.
- Focus on the positive. Help them realize what your elder can still do and how much he or she can still understand.
- Suggest interaction. When confronted with the news, often the biggest concern for the family is how they should act around the person with Alzheimer's disease. They wonder if they should act differently and how they will interact. Explain to them that they can still have a normal relationship with the elder. They also shouldn't be condescending or act differently or avoid contact. Help them understand to avoid correcting the person if they make a mistake or forget something. Help them plan fun activities with the person, such as going to family reunions, church, community activities, or visiting old friends.
- Help kids understand. Alzheimer's disease can also impact children and teens. Just as with any family member, be honest about the person's diagnosis with the young people in your life. Encourage them to ask questions.
After all is said and done and the news is communicated, caregivers must expect the harsh reality that accompanies Alzheimer's disease. No matter how well you communicate the diagnosis, realize that some people may drift out of your life, as they may feel uncomfortable around the person or may not want to provide memory care. At the end of the day, you can only do your best and not control how others will react.