How to explain Alzheimer’s disease to family and friends

You may find it hard to know when and how to tell your family and friends that a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. What many caregivers fail to notice, though, is that Alzheimer’s can be the elephant in the room. That is to say that your friends and relatives probably suspected that there was something wrong, but didn’t mention it out of delicacy – or the subject was simply to awkward to touch upon. Whether they know or not, it is best to talk about it openly; since there is no right or wrong time to do this, the only advice here is to go with your gut and bring up the topic when you feel it’s right.

The good news is that you can see this as an opportunity to educate those around you about Alzheimer’s disease, including what it is and isn’t, what it does. Additionally, you can share articles, websites, and any other available information on the condition, as well as let them know what they can do to help you when you need to take a break from caregiving. The most important bit of information, however, is that Alzheimer’s doesn’t affect only the patient and the primary caregiver, but the entire family down to children and grandchildren – so they should be included in the conversation as well.

Communication tips

·         Help friends and relatives realize how much the patient can and can’t do and understand.

·         Explain to visitors how to initiate a conversation with the patient.

·         Ask people to refrain from correcting or ignoring the patient when they forget something or make a mistake; instead have them respond to what was said or change the subject.

·         Help plan activities such as family reunions or visiting old friends. Even browsing through a photo album can distract a patient who is bored or confused.

·         Determine when the best times to visit are and ask friends and relatives to visit during those times only.

·         Keep your cool; do not speak to the person with Alzheimer’s in a loud voice or as if they were a child.

·         Respect the individual person’s place; as The Police said, don’t stand too close.

·         Don’t take offense if the patient is rude towards you or doesn’t know who you are; that is the disease talking, not the person.

 When out in public, some caregivers bring a card that explains that the person has Alzheimer’s disease, and as such, might behave or speak oddly. An example of such a card could say, “My family member has Alzheimer’s disease. He or she might say or do things that are unexpected. Thank you for your understanding.” This way your loved one doesn’t have to hear you explain to people that they have a mental illness; also, and you don’t have to keep repeating yourself.