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How should I tell a loved one that he or she has Alzheimer's disease?

Here are some suggestions for how to discuss the disease with the person who's been diagnosed:
  • Be mindful that your loved one may suspect something is amiss long before a doctor reaches a diagnosis. It is your loved one's right to know what is wrong.
  • Informing the person may enable him/her to participate in important medical, legal, financial, long-term care, and end-of-life decisions. The extent of his/her input will depend on the current state of the disease.
  • Be sensitive when disclosing the diagnosis, keeping in mind the person's feelings and emotional state, and his/her ability to remember, reason and make decisions. Your loved one may not be able to totally understand the diagnosis or may deny your explanation. If this occurs, accept his/her reaction and avoid further detailed explanations..
  • Consider disclosing the diagnosis at a family conference attended by the person with the disease, other family members and a social worker, as well as a healthcare professional experienced in working with cognitively impaired individuals.
  • Plan some simple answers to a loved one's questions, or encourage him/her to speak with a doctor about concerns.
  • Reassure your loved one. Let him/her know that you will provide ongoing help and do whatever is possible to improve his/her quality of life.
  • When you sense the time is right, provide the person with follow-up information that would be beneficial, such as an explanation of symptoms and the importance of continued care. For example, you may say, "Mom, because of your memory and other problems, you may have to let people help you more than you have in the past."
  • Treat the person as an adult, and don't downplay the disease. As the dementia progresses, remain open to the person's need to talk about his/her illness and its implications -- such as his/her ability to work, drive and manage finances.
  • Allow your loved one to express his/her feelings, which might include anger, frustration and sadness. Look for nonverbal signs of these emotions, and respond with love and reassurance.
  • Watch for signs of clinical depression, which could result from an individual being told that he/she has a terminal illness; consult with a physician.
  • Investigate community resources such as support groups for individuals in the early stages of the disease, which can be helpful in expressing emotions and concerns.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.