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How to Tell Your Loved One It Is Alzheimer’s Disease

By  Daniel Paris, MSW

 

There are a number of takes on telling the person with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) the truth. I would propose a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Ask yourself how much your loved one will understand of the explanation. Sometimes they can understand and retain a lot of the information (you have a disease of the brain, etc...); sometimes all they can understand is that they have "some memory loss;" sometimes they are unable to get any of it. Remember, the cognitive impairments of AD affect not only their ability to comprehend information, but also their ability to communicate.
  2. Often someone with Alzheimer’s knows something is wrong, they just can't figure out what. Are they stupid or going crazy, they may wonder.  Finding out there is something wrong that is a legitimate disease beyond their control can actually be comforting at times in this light.
  3. There are some people who will never accept what you tell them due to denial, resistance, the disease, etc.  Complicating this can be a host of personality or cultural traits pre-AD. There are times when telling the person can do more harm than good. Because of this, you can't force them to understand if they are unable or unwilling.
  4. This is an individual decision; you should think about the type of person your loved one is, and how the Alzheimer’s disease has impaired them. You can always try beginning the conversation and see how it goes.  If they become very upset and if it doesn’t work, there is a good chance they will not remember the conversation.
  5. Finally, if you are certain your loved one should know, be ready to repeat yourself numerous times as they will probably not remember what you said.

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