As your loved ones grow older, it’s possible that you have noticed some changes in behaviour that have given cause for concern. Perhaps they seem more forgetful of late, or they aren’t managing their personal care like they used to. It can be difficult to know how to approach your loved one about such a personal topic. If you fear that your older loved one is experiencing dementia symptoms, here are some tips about how to respond respectfully and with your loved one’s dignity in mind.
The first step in addressing concerns about potential dementia symptoms is to really take notice of when and where these behaviours occur. If your loved one occasionally forgets a name or fact or has an off day once in a while with regards to personal grooming, there probably isn’t too much to be concerned about. However, if you notice that consistently, your parent is not coping with household tasks, or that they become particularly forgetful at a certain time of day, or during certain events, that may be an indicator of an underlying cause that needs attention.
Some behaviour changes that may be worth investigating further with a health professional include:
- Confusion about regular and familiar routines
- Forgetfulness that is persistent or interferes with the person’s ability to manage daily life
- Changes in language use or speaking patterns, such as repeating themselves or finding it difficult to maintain a conversation
- Rapid mood swings or sudden suspicion of others
- Difficulty in performing daily tasks, such as making a cup of tea or a grooming routine
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping during the day and being awake late at night
Remember though, not all out-of-character behaviours need be attributed to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Stressful events, changes in environment or routine, medical conditions such as infections, vitamin deficiencies, or side effects of new medications can all cause behaviour changes, and of course, these should be reported to your loved one’s GP for further investigation.
To talk or not to talk
Given the fear and stigma that is often associated with dementia, it can be difficult to decide whether to raise your concerns with the person concerned. Both you and your loved one are likely to have a range of emotions about what has been occurring, so it is important to recognise this and go gently. There could be multiple reasons as to why your loved one’s behaviour may be changing, and all of these are worth investigating. Here are some tips for starting a conversation about your concerns:
–Plan a time and place that allows for open discussion. Over the phone or while rushing between appointments certainly doesn’t allow for feelings to be expressed respectfully. If possible, choose somewhere you both find comfortable, and leave enough time to take the conversation slowly.
–Address what you have noticed without accusation. Statements like, “You’re always forgetting things” or “You aren’t coping,” could close down the conversation. It’s better to frame your observations as just that – things you have noticed. For example, “Mum, I noticed that you were having trouble remembering X’s name yesterday. Does that happen often?”
–Accept that your loved one may not be receptive to your concerns. They may become annoyed or frustrated or deny that the behaviours have been occurring. In this case, don’t push; close the conversation respectfully and regroup later.
–Encourage your loved one to seek support. If your loved one is receptive to your concerns, encourage them to contact their GP, or health professional, to begin to address the causes.
Seek expert advice
While this may be a worrying time for you and your loved one, there are many services that can provide support and advice. Dementia Australia is a portal for information and support online, and the National Dementia Hotline is a free phone service offering advice and connections to support services in your area. You can contact them on 1800 100 500 twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.
TriCare Aged Care Residences can also provide support and advice for people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and who could benefit from a residential care setting. Contact us for more information.