It can be incredibly hard to approach a loved one for the first time to tell them you think they may have dementia. But with dementia cases on the rise it is a conversation that many of us will have had to have. How can we approach our families or friends, and is there a good way to do it without causing upset?
Firstly, make sure you plan when you’re going to talk. Timing is key. Make sure you’re both rested and relaxed, not after a long day at work when you’re likely to be feeling irritable. When you do begin to talk, make sure you keep the tone gentle, and non-accusatory. Even if you have been worried for a while, and frustrated by what you have noticed in their behaviour, it may be that they don’t suspect a thing, so this might come as quite a shock. Be kind, and think how it would feel if you were in their shoes. Watch your body language too – don’t fold your arms, which can seem confrontational, and make sure your movements aren’t agitated or impatient.
You could start by saying you are worried about their memory lately, and ask if they have noticed anything themselves. It could be that they have, and that the conversation flows naturally from there. Or, they may deny that anything is wrong. This is perfectly common, but if it does happen, don’t argue. You could try giving specific examples – perhaps a time when they forgot their keys, or put something odd in the fridge, or any other little examples that may jog their memory. But do be prepared for the fact that they may not remember them.
Also, try to accept that they may be confused, angry or frightened, or even angry. If it becomes apparent that they are not in the right mood, just leave it and try the conversation again another day. Remember, if they do have dementia, mood swings are common. Equally, they may just need time to digest what you have said, and may come back to you at some point to admit they are worried.
If they do open up, consider making notes about what they say to take to a GP later. At the end of the conversation, agree and decide on an action plan of what will happen next between the two of you. If you have both agreed to visit the GP, offer to make the appointment and reassure them you will go with them. And remember, when the appointment comes round they may have forgotten that they agreed to go – perhaps write it down on a calendar or diary to help jog their memory. Gentle persistence is key, as this can be a confusing and upsetting time for your loved one.
For further advice, call the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22 or visit