Dementia Caregiver Web Support
Telling Your Loved One About Their Dementia Diagnosis
When you learn that someone you care about has Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel a range of emotions. Fear, relief, shock, sadness to name a few. You may also hesitate to talk to your loved one about their diagnosis. Once you are emotionally ready to discuss the diagnosis, it may be hard to know how to raise the subject. This page contains some suggestions for talking about the disease with your loved one.
Respect the person’s right to know
- You may want to protect the person by withholding information. But your loved one is an adult with the right to know the truth. It can be a relief to hear the diagnosis, especially if the person had suspected he or she had Alzheimer’s disease.
- In many cases, people who are diagnosed early are able to participate in important decisions about their healthcare and legal and financial planning (see our section on legal and medical documents for more information on this topic).
- While there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, life will not stop with the diagnosis. There are treatments and services that can make life better for everyone.
Plan how to tell the person
- Talk with doctors, social workers and others who work with people who have Alzheimer’s to plan an approach for discussing the diagnosis.
- Consider a “family conference” to tell the person about the diagnosis. He or she may not remember the discussion, but may remember that people cared enough to come together. You may need to have more than one meeting to cover the details.
- Shape the discussion to fit the person’s emotional state, medical condition and ability to remember and make decisions.
- Pick the best time to talk about the diagnosis. People with Alzheimer’s may be more receptive to new information at different times of the day.
- Don’t provide too much information at once. Listen carefully to the person. They often signal the amount of information they can deal with through their question and reactions. Later, you can explain the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and talk about planning for the future and getting support.
Help the person accept the diagnosis
- The person may not understand the meaning of the diagnosis or may deny it. Accept such reactions and avoid further explanations. If they respond well, try providing additional information.
- The person with Alzheimer’s may forget the original discussion but not the emotion involved. If telling them upsets them, hearing additional details may trigger the same reaction later.
- Be open to the person’s need to talk about the diagnosis and his or her emotions.
- Look for nonverbal signs of sadness, anger or anxiety. Respond with love and reassurance.
- Reassure your loved one. Express your commitment to help and give support. Let the person know that you will do all you can to keep your lives fulfilling.
- Encourage the person to join a support group for individuals with memory loss. Your local Alzheimer’s Association can help you locate a group. To find an Association near you, please call 1.800.272.3900 or go to www.alz.org.
Factoring in the progression of the disease
When deciding how to talk to a loved one about their Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it may be helpful to follow their lead. In other words, try to see things from their point of view rather than your own.
Early on in the disease process, your loved one may be able to understand that something is wrong with them, and therefore may ask you questions about what that might be. At this point, only when asked, it typically is best to answer honestly about their condition.
As the condition progresses and the symptoms worsen, you may notice that your loved one forgets about their diagnosis. In this scenario, following your loved one’s lead most likely means not reminding them of their diagnosis. At this stage, your loved one may still sometimes ask questions about what is going on with them. It is important to handle these instances with a soft touch and give as little information as possible to satisfy them.
Over explaining can lead to confusion and agitation.
US Department of Veterans Affairs
VA values your commitment as a partner in our pledge to care for those who have "borne the battle." We have several support and service options designed with you in mind. The programs are available both in and out of your home to help you care for yourself and the Veteran you love.
- Caregiver Support Network
- VA Caregiver Support Line: 1-855-260-3274
Geriatrics and Extended Care Services (GEC) is committed to optimizing the health and well-being of Veterans with multiple chronic conditions, life-limiting illness, frailty or disability associated with chronic disease, agining or injury. This VA site reviews information on delirium, dementia and Alzheimer's care, decision making, home and community based services, and advance care planning, among many other important topics that may be important for you as a caregiver.
Veteran's Crisis Line Phone: 1-800-273-8255 (Veterans Press 1)
References: Information adapted from Alzheimer’s Association
If you have any questions or concerns, contact us.