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How to Talk With a Parent About Dementia Symptoms

Written by Angelike Gaunt
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated March 30, 2023

You’ve noticed your mom keeps misplacing her regularly-used items, struggles to keep up with her daily chores, and has missed several important appointments — all of which can be early signs of dementia. You’re concerned for her but aren’t quite sure what you could do or say to help. When starting a conversation about a loved one’s emerging dementia symptoms, it’s normal to worry about upsetting them. By going in with an open heart and following a few simple tips, you can start taking the first steps to getting your loved one the care and support they may need.

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How to recognize early dementia symptoms

Watching your parents age can be difficult and when signs of dementia appear, it can be harder than ever. Talking to parents about these changes may seem overwhelming, but having the tough conversation now can lead to an earlier diagnosis and will help everyone better cope with the changes.
The Alzheimer’s Association identifies 10 early signs and symptoms of dementia that can help Alzheimer’s experts and medical professionals diagnose dementia earlier:
  • Challenges in planning or problem-solving
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Confusion with place or time
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Misplacing objects
  • New problems with communication
  • Poor judgment
  • Trouble understanding spatial relationships and visual images
  • Withdrawal from social activities
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia early may allow someone experiencing the symptoms access to new drug trials, giving them a broader treatment plan with more options. Additionally, an early diagnosis can help you and your family plan financially and legally for your parent’s future.

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6 tips for having the talk with a parent about dementia symptoms

Adult children commonly have a hard time broaching the subject of dementia with a loved one. Ruth Drew, Director of Family and Information Services at the Alzheimer’s Association, says, “I think people are worried about hurting a family relationship or… upsetting people that they care about.” Drew also says that broaching the topic early helps everyone. “When you know what you’re dealing with upfront, then you can plan,” she adds. “The person [with dementia] can have a voice in what happens next.”
If your loved one is exhibiting dementia symptoms, it is crucial to have the talk with him or her as soon as possible.
Here are six tips for talking with someone you love about dementia:

1. Acknowledge the conversation may not go as planned.

You know you have good intentions, but your parent may not be open or willing to discuss the changes you have noticed. They may be angry or defensive. Don’t force the conversation. Take a break and plan to revisit the conversation later. If your parent still refuses help, contact a medical professional.

2. Have the conversation as early as possible.

When you see the signs, it’s important to say something early before more symptoms occur. It’s best to have this conversation when cognitive functioning is at its highest.

3. Offer your support.

This can be scary for your parent and seeing a doctor to discuss the changes can feel overwhelming. Let your parent know that you are there for them and can accompany them on doctor visits. Show your support throughout the diagnosis and the days and months that follow.

4. Plan specific ways to start the conversation.

Use these conversation starters:
  • I’ve been thinking through my own long-term care plans lately and I was wondering if you have any advanced planning tips for me?
  • I was wondering if you’ve noticed the same changes in your behavior that I’ve noticed?
  • Would you want to know if I noticed any concerning changes in your behavior?

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5. Realize gaps in self-awareness.

Someone experiencing the signs of early dementia may not see the symptoms in themselves. Be prepared that your loved one may show signs of confusion, denial and withdrawal.

6. Think through who should have the conversation.

Is there a certain family member or close friend who can positively influence your loved one? Consider asking that person to be with you or have the conversation privately.


Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at OurParents. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

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