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When to Talk to a Parent about Dementia

When signs of dementia first show in our parents, it may seem like small slips of memory. Maybe mom forgot where she put her car keys or dad forgot the name of his granddaughter. However, as time progresses, these memory slips become bigger and more concerning. Mom starts forgetting where her favorite clothing store is and gets lost on the way or dad leaves after putting a roast in and almost starts a house fire.  

Memory loss is a normal part of aging that most people will encounter as they grow older. However, how can we tell if our parents are suffering from normal memory loss or dementia? How do we have this difficult talk with our parents? A great place to start is understanding the difference between dementia and memory loss.

The Difference Between Dementia and Normal Memory Loss

Short-term memory loss is a normal thing we all encounter, and the frequency of short-term memory loss increases as we age. However, if memory loss is affecting a parent’s daily life in a negative way, then it is more than likely dementia. When cognitive problems are beginning to impact daily activities in a parent's life, then it is time to investigate the cause. 

Other warning signs of dementia to look for are:

  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Confusion of time and place
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty understanding special relationships, such as spouses and children
  • Problems with speaking or writing. 

If you notice any of these symptoms in a parent, then it is time to seek medical help for them. 

Encourage Your Parent to See a Doctor

Once you’ve established that mom might have dementia, the next step is to get her to a doctor. While dementia progresses slowly and has some distinct warning signs, these warning signs might also be a sign of other issues such as medication issues or hormonal imbalances. The only way to be sure of what is going on is to get your parent a full and thorough physical. Try to attend the doctor's appointment with your parent to ensure that all information is shared with the physician and to take notes for mom or dad to review after the appointment.

Talking to Mom or Dad About their Dementia

Now that dad has a diagnosis, it is time to tackle the difficult task of talking to him about his dementia and to also establish medical wishes. Explain to him what his diagnosis is and research the early and late stages of dementia together. Ask him if he would like to be in-home health care or a nursing home. Ask him about his wishes to be resuscitated, even though it may be a difficult conversation. Providing him with his medical wishes in his later stages of dementia will help him keep his dignity and help him to have some control over the situation, even when it seems that he has none. Most importantly, let dad know that you will be there for him throughout the process and remind him that he is not alone.

Dementia is an ugly disease that can cause heartbreak and friction within families. However, knowing the signs of dementia and knowing when to talk to mom or dad can help make things easier for everyone.

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