Talking to Your Family about Your Parent’s Dementia Diagnosis

Although your parent may not realize the extent of their diagnosis, it’s likely that you and other family members have. After receiving an official dementia diagnosis, it becomes critical that you start having important conversations with those family members.

The challenges facing a family with a loved one diagnosed with dementia should not be taken lightly. And, it is significantly easier to face these challenges if the lines of communication are flowing openly. You might feel embarrassment, shame, and other types of emotional discomfort at having these conversations, but the tips listed here should help move you through those feelings to a place of confidence when sharing a dementia diagnosis with your family.

Plan What to Say

It’s important to be careful when you start the conversation about your parent’s memory loss. Even if you normally face difficult conversations head-on and in a no-nonsense fashion, you might want to consider being a bit more sensitive and thoughtful. This topic can be emotionally charged for your family.

Create a list of talking points to help you maintain clarity, composure and compassion. You may want to simply start by asking everyone what types of memory and behavioral changes they’ve noticed in your mom or dad. This might help everyone consider this diagnosis from the perspective of your parent, instead of starting out defensively. The talking points for this conversation will vary from family to family. Everyone’s situation is different, but it is important that you consider which topics need to be covered.

Choose a Familiar Setting

Once you’ve developed your talking points and are ready to talk to your family about the diagnosis, determine the best place and time to do so. Please, avoid having this conversation in a public place. It is likely to be emotional and you want to allow for that. Choose familiar surroundings that are quiet and comfortable. Also try to minimize distractions so that you’re not worried about the environment interfering with the flow of the discussion. If you have small children, consider getting childcare for them. They will need to eventually be involved in this discussion, but not initially.

You’ll also want to give yourself plenty of time to talk. Schedule the conversation for a time when everyone involved will be able to process the information.

Dismiss Judgment

Start talking by explaining to your family that this conversation is about how much you all care about your mom or dad. Avoid moments of judgement and recrimination of past relationships and behaviors. Everyone who is going to be involved in the care of your parent needs to do so at their own will and with a clear mind and clean conscious.  This is less likely to happen if this conversation veers off course and starts dredging up the past. This is a time for clean slates and forward momentum.

Encourage a Dialogue

Again, make sure that when you speak with your family about the diagnosis, you do so in a way that is positive and promotes a dialogue. Remember that you want to make it a team effort rather than dictating what anyone should do. To ensure that it’s like a partnership, you should be open and honest, be a good listener and ask everyone for their feedback. Because this is a dialogue, you may have to have this conversation again…and that’s okay. Not everyone is going to be able to process quickly enough to contribute in the moment. Give them space to return and discuss when they’re ready. But, before this first conversation is done, remind everyone that your mom or dad is going to move through the stages of dementia at an indeterminable pace, so they can take some time to process, but time is still of the essence.

Create a Positive Plan of Action Together

Finally, you should end your discussion on a positive note. If your family is amenable to the opportunity, make a plan to speak with their primary care doctor or a geriatrician as a family. This might allow those more reluctant to acknowledge the diagnosis, the opportunity to reconcile themselves with the diagnosis, and the changes they have and will see in your parent.

Don’t Get Discouraged if the Process Takes Time

Just as there are stages to the progression of dementia related diseases, there are stages associated with accepting the diagnosis. Both you, your family and your diagnosed parent may not all move into acceptance at the same pace. Give it time. Be patient with your family. And while you’re waiting on them, do your research. Figure out which options and opportunities are available to you and your family.  Try not to get frustrated with them if they’re taking longer than you’d like to accept the diagnosis. The entire process will go more smoothly if everyone comes to acceptance in their own time and in their own way.

Always be sensitive and compassionate toward your family. Talking with them about your mom or dad’s dementia diagnosis isn’t going to be easy, but it can be done with kindness, patience and love.