The AgingCare.com forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled some of our users’ best ideas for communicating with a loved one who is struggling to understand their cognitive impairment.
Should You Explain a Dementia Patient’s Condition?
“Early on, I kept thinking the more people told my mom she had dementia, the more she might remember or believe it. What you should know is that many individuals with dementia can’t recognize their condition. It’s called anosognosia. Knowing that helped me make more sense of mom and her swings between ‘my brain is bad’ and ‘why are you telling the doctor I had a stroke?’ After this, I decided I would always tell my mom everything ONCE so we could discuss it and she could ask questions and vent her anger. Then I never brought it up again.” –KayHBransford
“They will eventually (probably, but not always) figure it out. Is it really necessary that you bring it up? Most doctors, nurses and medical workers know not to call it out. There will be times that you will need to tell them or explain why they can’t do something that may be dangerous, like use the stove, but you can say it gently. My mother forgets that she has a memory problem and thinks we’re the ones with the issue. I tell her that she is very forgetful, but it’s not her fault. It’s just something that happens. Your loved one may think that others are doing this to them, and that’s a normal reaction. Look at it from their point of view. They’ve raised kids, paid bills, maybe worked and were an intelligent person. There is no way this is their reality now! Surely others are mistaken.” –magnoliasouth
“You cannot reason with a person who has Alzheimer’s. Just keep them safe. Trying to untangle their thinking only upsets them. All the patients I dealt with who had Alzheimer’s started out with beautiful senses of humor. As their conditions slowly progressed, they got madder and madder because they realized in some way that they were no longer in control and had no concept of what was occurring.” –tiny450
“We did tell my mom at first about three months ago. She went along with it initially, but now she says, ‘Alzheimer’s? Phooey!’ In fact, she is now denying that she even has it, so I am not sure if it is even worth the effort to tell your loved one they have Alzheimer’s. My mom forgets things and won’t admit to it. My advice is to do what you feel is best. Your loved one may or may not accept it.” –anonymous155170
“Your loved one probably won’t believe you, and they won’t remember what you said. I have told Mom many times that parts of her brain are gone, but she keeps looping back into the same questions, looking at the medical reports, and thinking the doctors are wrong or not telling the truth. Guide your loved one as patiently as you can and repeat, repeat, repeat.” –pamstegma
“Explaining a loved one’s medical impairments can be a lost cause. It was very comforting and useful for my husband to understand what was going on, that it wasn’t his fault, and that I’d help him compensate for his impairments. However, with my mother, that same approach would be totally counter-productive. We have never used ‘the D word’ (dementia) with her. For people who find dementia too alarming, calling it a ‘memory disorder’ may be better. But if someone doesn’t ask, and in fact doesn’t seem to know anything is wrong, then an explanation may serve no purpose. It is a very individual decision. If you’ve tried explaining it and that doesn’t help, then give that approach up.” –jeannegibbs
“I told my mom she had a ‘memory problem’ and to take her ‘memory pill’ and that we would go see the ‘memory doctor.’ When she realized she wasn’t herself (waking up not knowing who she was), I would just rub her, hold her and reassure her just like you would do with anyone who has a chronic disease. Other times when she would remark about her memory, I would simply reply that my memory was awful too...” –micalost
“It’s always a tough thing to determine, but there are varying ways to handle it. Some people explain that there are memory problems and that they will work on getting their loved one as healthy as possible, take care of them, etc. Fortunately, I found that this explanation didn’t seem to alarm my cousin. The neurologist later told her that she had dementia, but by that time, I’m not sure she fully understood what it meant. I think the issue is that no matter what you say, it’s going to be forgotten. Then you have to repeat it, so it may distress the person to give them this news over and over. I think it’s important for a patient to have full knowledge if they are still able to process it, make plans for their care, sign a power of attorney document, etc. But if those things are already done and they aren’t functioning well, I’m not sure I see how it helps them.” –Sunnygirl1
“I would say yes to telling a loved one. Make it gentle and supportive. This way they can plan for it. So often as it progresses, most people with Alzheimer’s are not able to see their limitations and it makes keeping them safe more difficult. If you can help them to accept it now and put safety measures in place over time, the transition will be smoother because they will be calling the shots by planning instead of you struggling through when they might not be able to decide.” –IKORWPA
“My mother was an incredibly dynamic, eloquent and savvy woman until a traumatic brain injury left her with a form of dementia, aphasia and anosognosia. Alarm bells started ringing when she ‘blacked out’ after a fun-filled family day, with no memory of it at all, even after we showed her the photos we took. Stress may not be a root cause of increased impairment, but it certainly enhances the cognitive issues, according to my observations. I kept arguing with her, trying to get her to understand until I realized that this was MY agenda, not hers.” –LorrieB