Diagnosing Alzheimer's

How to Talk About the Diagnosis

Diagnosing Alzheimer's | 04.23.15

Learning of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be like a thunderbolt, even if the symptoms have given you a strong clue that the disease was a possibility. As a caregiver, your next trauma may be the decision of when, how — and whether — to tell the person about their condition, as well as informing friends and family.

“Breaking the news” may be one of the most painful things you can imagine. But it is important that you do so, and sooner rather than later. The following suggestions might help you navigate the process of talking about the diagnosis with the people important to you.

The person with Alzheimer’s deserves to know

There’s a natural tendency to want to shield people from bad news that will upset them. Remember, however, that the person with the diagnosis is an adult and should be treated like one. They deserve the truth — and it might actually be a relief because it helps explain the mystery behind their symptoms.

The other important reason to give the person the facts is that it allows valuable time for them to be a part of decisions involving the next stages of their care, as well as essential legal and financial planning.

How to share the diagnosis

Regardless of whether you are telling the person who has been diagnosed or close friends and family, it’s important to prepare emotionally for the conversation. Try to find a time and place where you can have a calm discussion. A family conference can provide a way to share the news to the group closest to you.

Don’t be afraid to make some notes to help guide what you want to say. Your role is to be a rational voice and this may provide an opportunity to begin the conversation about planning for the future. Remember, this isn’t an end, but a new beginning.

You should also be prepared to explain a little about Alzheimer’s. Many people are still uninformed about the disease and uncomfortable talking about it. Your doctor might have some brochures you can share to help present up-to-date information about living with dementia.

Dealing with people’s reactions

When breaking the news to other people, be prepared for any number of reactions. You may encounter fear, anger or even relief. Denial is also a common response. All of these feelings are the ways that people process the unexpected. Just like you when you first learned the diagnosis, they will need a little time to come to grips with what it means to them.

Use that first encounter about the diagnosis as the beginning of a continuing conversation that will help everyone involved start to chart their journey of what it means to live the best life possible with the reality of Alzheimer’s.

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