When someone you love has dementia, you may find yourself in plunged into a world you know nothing about. Family denial of dementia is common, especially if your parent is the one who seems to be struggling. You tell yourself that Mom is just a little forgetful these days or Dad is getting older, so it’s not unusual that he forgot his sister’s name.
If you’re not sure what to do if you think your parent has dementia, use the following guidelines to help you determine how to spot dementia in a loved one, how to talk to a parent about dementia, how to get a parent evaluated for dementia, and how to tell someone you think they have dementia.
Set the Stage
The key to a successful interaction in any conversation is to create a comfortable, non-threatening environment. It’s important to know how to talk to your parent about dementia with a calm, understanding tone. It’s likely that your parent has noticed some of the same things you have, so be gentle and understanding. Express your concerns and assure your parent that he is not alone as he faces the challenges of this unsettling condition.
Try to determine if your parent seems nervous or uneasy about his mental state. Ask if he’s noticed any changes in himself, or if he has experienced any frightening moments when he couldn’t remember something important. If he acknowledges any of these feelings, now is the time to suggest seeing the doctor for an evaluation. The doctor can assess the situation based upon your observations, your parent’s responses to questions, and any medical testing that might be indicated.
Be Prepared for Resistance
Dementia can be unpredictable, even in the early stages. Your parent may be feeling scared, angry, or out of touch with reality. Be reassuring and positive if that is the case with your mom or dad. Do not argue or try to make your parent do something if you notice resistance. Try to minimize anything that could cause agitation, such as loud music, high volume on the TV, or anything else that seems to increase anxiety.
Meet Them Where They Are
Your parent will have times when he is very coherent, but that will alternate with periods of confusion and disorientation. A feeling of well-being and security is more important than remembering what day it is, or who lives next door. If your parent is having a bad day, there are many approaches you can take to make him feel better.
Encourage your parent to tell you what he would like to do, and when he would like to do it. A shower can be taken at any time. Ice cream for supper is okay if that’s what he wants. Sometimes going for a ride, listening to music, or even watching a movie and eating popcorn can be a wonderful diversion from the reality of dementia.
Coping with the challenges and progression of dementia is difficult. Try to remember that your mom or dad is still there, and they are trying their best to manage their symptoms, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
Take a deep breath and remember to meet them where they are, even if that is a totally different place from where they used to be. Don’t forget to laugh when you can, have fun on the good days, and be ready for the inevitable changes that dementia will bring to your parent’s life and to yours.