The news that a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia does not necessarily come as a shock. After all, the diagnosis was likely spurred on by suspicion that they were struggling with things like memory. But it’s still a time of adjustment for the individual and their loved ones.
Here we look at three of the most common aspects you need to bear in mind when a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia. We also look the most common FAQs loved ones have immediately following diagnosis.
It can be difficult hearing that a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, even if you had suspicions. You are likely concerned for the future and unsure of what happens next. You may not know much about the disease. These reactions are normal.
Stay calm, patient and understanding as you and your loved one adjust to the diagnosis. Nothing will change overnight and you have time to learn more about the disease and consider options for the future.
In our experience, there are common areas where interacting with someone diagnosed with dementia requires a shift in the attitude for their loved ones. Familiarising yourself with these can be a good first step post-diagnosis.
1: Don’t rely on logic
People with memory loss will, on occasion, act in bewildering and sometimes unreasonable ways. Appealing to their sense of reason, or trying to engage with them through rational arguments to behave appropriately, as you would have done previously, is often counter-productive. It doesn’t matter how logical your arguments are, they will likely be uncooperative and your insistence can cause distress for both parties. During episodes of confusion, an individual with dementia is unable to appreciate the reality of life.
Instead, try to engage with them using clear, simple explanations of what is about to occur. When they are making demands you cannot fulfil, rather than argue your point rationally, try to steer the conversation in another direction based on the theme of their subject.
For instance, if someone with dementia insists they’ve not had lunch when you know they’ve just eaten, you could talk about what their favourite food is.
2: Be a leader
Your loved one will find elements of their disease upsetting, frustrating and confusing. It can help to take a leadership role. This may not come naturally, especially if parent-child dynamics are in play. However, it can be the kindest approach to many situations you encounter. It can also ensure success with various daily activities.
You can reduce stress and worry for your loved one by removing the burden of simple decisions, if they are struggling. For example, you could present them with a pair of shoes and say it’s time to put them on, rather than expecting them to choose.
It can be tiring taking on the mental load of decision-making for a loved one with dementia. Be open to seeking support when needed.
3: Be kind with the truth
Repetition is common when talking with someone who has memory problems and cognitive decline. In many instances, the repetition isn’t problematic and can be eased with gentle redirection.
However, when you find yourself constantly reminding someone diagnosed with dementia of ‘bad’ news, it can be upsetting for both parties. For example, constantly reminding someone that their spouse has died can be very distressing.
Again, gentle distraction and a gentle change of topic can be very helpful. You can also provide reassurance, while validating their feelings and acknowledging their emotions. For example, you can say it is natural to miss someone they haven’t seen for a while. You can share photos or memories, focusing on the past connection, rather than the current truth.
In some cases, therapeutic white lies might be necessary to provide comfort and prevent repeated anguish. However, this approach should be used judiciously and in the wider understanding of the individual’s overall understanding and disease progression. If you need to tell fibs in this way, don’t feel shame or guilt as you would in a normal scenario, but instead reassure yourself that this is the kindest thing for the individual at this time.