This June, the Alzheimer’s Association is working hard to promote Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. This year their focus is highlighting the critical importance of early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Locally, The Alzheimer’s Association of MA/NH is seeking help to spark change and raise awareness in local communities. Please visit http://www.alzmassnh.org/ourtown to receive a free toolkit to support the effort.
On the “Our Town” website, there are also links on how cities and towns can become both Age- and Dementia Friendly. For more guidance on aligning the two movements, the Healthy Aging Collaborative suggests the “Better Together” Report from AARP and communities can contact MHAC for more details.
While receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is devastating, there are many medical, financial, emotional and social benefits to receiving an early diagnosis – not only for the person living with the disease, but for their caregivers and family members as well.
The journey toward diagnosis, however, is often complicated by barriers which delay or prevent diagnosis. These include: denial, fear, anxiety, stigma, and lack of disease awareness, failure to recognize warning signs, and difficulty initiating conversations about cognitive decline – even when family members know something is wrong.
Alzheimer’s is complicated, but having a conversation about it doesn’t have to be.
- New findings from an Alzheimer’s Association survey reveal common concerns and a hesitation to act when faced with approaching a family member or friend about Alzheimer’s disease.
- A majority of Americans would be concerned about offending a family member (76 percent), or ruining their relationship (69 percent), if they were to approach that person about observed signs of Alzheimer’s.
- More alarming, 38 percent said they would wait until a family member’s Alzheimer’s symptoms worsened before approaching them with concerns.
- Additionally, nearly 1 in 3 Americans (29 percent) would not say anything to a family member despite their concerns.
- One of the most common barriers to early diagnosis is a lack of communication between family members.
- Close family members are typically the first to notice memory issues or cognitive problems, but they are often hesitant to say something – even when they know something is wrong.
- Initiating conversations over concerns about a family member’s memory or cognition problems can be difficult, but doing so can address concerns before a “crisis situation” arises and help put the individual and family on a better path for managing disease-related challenges.
The Alzheimer’s Association also offers these “6 Tips to Approaching Alzheimer’s”:
- Have the conversation as early as possible – Ideally, it’s best to talk about the Alzheimer’s warning signs with a family member or friend before they even occur, so that you can understand how someone would want you to approach them about it. However, many people aren’t planning for Alzheimer’s before it happens. If you’re noticing signs of dementia, start a conversation as soon as possible, while mental functioning is at its highest and before a crisis occurs.
- Think about who’s best suited to initiate the conversation – There might be a certain family member, friend or trusted advisor who holds sway. Consider asking this person to step in and plan around how to have the most supportive and productive conversation.
- Practice conversation starters – The following phrases can help broach the conversation.
- “Would you want me to say something if I ever noticed any changes in your behavior that worried me?”
- “I’ve noticed a few changes in your behavior lately, and I wanted to see if you’ve noticed these changes as well?”
- Offer your support and companionship – Seeing a doctor to discuss observed warning signs of Alzheimer’s can be a frightening experience. Let your family member or friend know that you’re willing to accompany them to the appointment and any follow-up assessments. Offer your continuous support throughout the diagnosis process.
- Anticipate gaps in self-awareness – It can be the case that someone showing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s is unable to recognize those signs in themselves. Be prepared to navigate confusion, denial and withdrawal, as people may not want to accept that their mental functioning is declining.
- Recognize the conversation may not go as planned – Despite your best intentions, a family member may not be open to discussing memory or cognitive concerns. They may get angry, upset, and defensive or simply refuse to talk about it. Unless it’s a crisis situation, don’t force the conversation. Take a step back, regroup and revisit the subject in a week or two. If they still refuse to get help, consult their physician or the Alzheimer’s Association for strategies that may help.