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How To Tell Family That Mom or Dad has Alzheimer's Disease

When an elder is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it doesn't only affect the person receiving the news. It very much affects the lives of family members, friends and especially the person who will be caring for the elder. Life is going to drastically change for that person.

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 friends are not prepared for the news and might not educated about the disease. Lack of knowledge can lead to them staying away, not wanting to talk 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 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:

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  • 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.

How to Tell the Family about Alzheimer's

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. As a caregiver, here are some effective ways to communicate to 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.

Point them in the right direction. Tell them how to get more information. (AgingCare.com and the Alzheimer's Association are excellent resources.)

Focus on the positive. Help them realize what your elder can still do and how much he or she still can understand.

Suggest interaction.
When confronted with the news, often, the biggest concern for 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 should not condescend the elder, act differently or avoid contact. Help them understand to avoid correcting the person with AD, if he or she makes a mistake or forgets something. Help them plan fun activities with the person, such as going to family reunions; church, temple, or mosque gatherings; other 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 a 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 help provide care. At the end of the day, you can only do your best, and you cannot control how others will react.
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