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How to Talk to Your Parent About Dementia

by Maura Banar

The word dementia encompasses a number of conditions that cause a generally irreversible decline in cognitive functioning. When the person with dementia is your parent, you can be confronted by changes in their memory, mood and personality. Speaking with one or both of your parents about dementia is most effective if it's accomplished during the early stages of the condition. This allows you and your family time to prepare for the unexpected.

Bringing Up the Topic

It's never easy to discuss a chronic, degenerative health condition -- and in the case of dementia -- what has been said, the patient isn't likely to retain. In the early stages of dementia, however, encouraging your parent to continue to be independent can reduce fears of abject dependency, explains the Alzheimer's Society in the guide, "After a Diagnosis." If your parent's spouse is present when you are discussing the diagnosis, he, too, may need to know what to expect, as his spouse progresses through the illness.

Planning for the Future

Most forms of dementia are progressive and it's likely that in the later stages, your parent will no longer be able to communicate her decisions for their future, and yours. In discussing the implications for the future, it's also unrealistic to believe that your parent will recall the details. Arrange for you, family members and a lawyer to sit with your parent to prepare a will, a health care proxy and other important documents. Even early-stage dementia can affect the processing of information and your parent may need more time and additional explanation to fully understand your questions.

Help Her Retain Information

Although memory impairment isn't the sole symptom of dementia, can be the most devastating, explains the Alzheimer's Association in the article, "What is Dementia?" Despite your best efforts to communicate with your parent, providing her with a written account of what was discussed can reduce her confusion and frustration over her problems with remembering. Your parent's memory may appear to be intact if the discussion is focused on the past, since those memories are more likely to remain accessible to the person with dementia. If your parent appears unable to retain information, using cues around the home such as a calendar and daily pill sorter can decrease the frequency that you need to provide reminders.

Use the Support of a Physician

Speaking with a parent about dementia can be less devastating by including his physician in the conversation. The presence of your parent's physician provides a source of answers for your questions and for those posed by your parent and family members. Additionally, because your parent's physician is a health care professional and not a family member, she is more objective and less emotionally reactive. Signs of dementia can include changes in mood that include strong disagreement and even arguments, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance in "Ten Real-Life Strategies for Dementia Caregiving." The presence of a physician can take over the discussion if your parent's demeanor changes unexpectedly.

About the Author

Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.

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