Alzheimer’s disease often hides in plain sight, and certain behaviors such as struggling with participating in conversations, isolating oneself and forgetting familiar tasks can indicate memory loss. Noticing these changes in friends, family or others can be difficult, and though it’s natural to be uncertain about how to offer support, it’s important to understand these changes could be a sign of a significant health concern. The Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter offers 10 steps to help assess the situation and take action.
First, assess the situation by considering the following:
- What changes in memory loss, thinking or behavior do you see? What’s the person doing — or not doing — that’s out of the ordinary and causing concern?
- What else is going on? Various conditions can cause changes in memory, thinking, judgement and behavior. What health or lifestyle issues could be a factor, such as family stress or health issues like diabetes or depression?
- Learn about the signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias and the benefits of an early diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Association resource, alz.org/10signs, provides education on the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and explains why it’s important to know if dementia is causing the changes.
- Has anyone else noticed the change(s)? Find out if other friends or family have seen changes. What are they?
“This time of year after the holidays, when we’ve spent more time with those we haven’t seen in a while, can bring up many questions related to memory,” said Heidi Haley-Franklin, Vice President of Programs, Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota. “People living with Alzheimer’s may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name. They often struggle to hold or follow conversations, resulting in withdrawing from once beloved activities. People with Alzheimer’s also have difficulty completing daily tasks, such as changing the channel on the remote, driving to a familiar location or cooking a favorite recipe. If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to get help.”
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends to take action through conversation with these steps:
- Consider who should have the conversation to discuss concerns. It could be a trusted family member or friend, or a combination. It’s usually best to speak one-on-one so that the person doesn’t feel threatened by a group.
- What is the best time and place to have the conversation about memory loss? Have the conversation as soon as possible. In addition to choosing a date and time, consider where the person will feel most comfortable.
- What should the conversation include? Try the following: “I’ve noticed [mention the change] in you, and I’m concerned. Have you noticed it? Are you worried?” Or, “How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself. I noticed you [give a specific example] and it worried me. Has anything else like that happened?”
- Offer to go with the person to the doctor. Ask the person if he or she will see a doctor and show support by offering to go to the appointment. Some words of encouragement may include: “There are lots of things that could be causing this, and dementia may or may not be one of them. Let’s see if the doctor can help us figure out what’s going on.” Or, “The sooner we know what’s causing these problems, the sooner we can address it. I think it would give us both peace of mind if we talked with a doctor.”
- If needed, have multiple conversations. The first conversation may not be successful. Write down some notes about the experience to help plan for the next conversation.
- Turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for information and support.
Visit alz.org/education to take a free Dementia Conversations online program. Learn how to have honest and caring conversations about common concerns — including driving, doctor visits, and legal and financial planning — when someone begins to show signs of dementia.
Call the 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) to speak with a master’s-level clinician who can provide more information about how to discuss memory concerns with someone close to you.
Visit Community Resource Finder (alz.org/CRF) to find local resources, such as a health care professional and your closest Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.
Explore Evaluating Memory and Thinking Problems: What to Expect (alz.org/evaluatememory) to learn what a typical medical evaluation may include.
Finally, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that those who may be concerned about someone’s memory also ask for help. As Haley-Franklin said, the Alzheimer’s Association provides a variety of no-cost resources for individuals and families, including those in the early stages of the disease. “From our individualized care consultations, to our 24/7 Helpline, to our support groups, we are here for those on this journey.” More information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia is available at alz.org or the 24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900.