Tips for Talking about Alzheimer's with a Family Member

It’s a conversation no family wants to have, but one that can be vitally important — talking to a loved one about memory loss or cognitive decline.  alzheimers talk with family

Mary Foss said she knew it was time to broach this sensitive topic with her husband Darrell when she noticed he was having difficulty doing the home improvement projects he had enjoyed all his life.

“Darrell would spend hours building and fixing things around the house — it was his hobby,” Mary said. “But it got to point where he was having trouble doing even routine tasks. He would get frustrated and soon began doing less and less. I knew something was wrong, but dismissed it for a while.”

As Darrell’s retreat from activities he once loved grew, so did Mary’s concern. Eventually, Mary and the couple’s adult daughter, Michele, decided to share their concerns.

“We just told him that something is not right, and you need to see a doctor and figure out what it is,” Foss said. “I thought maybe he had a mini-stroke or a brain tumor. We were shocked when the diagnosis came back as mild cognitive impairment, possibly Alzheimer’s.”

The Fosses’ story is not uncommon. Talking about memory or cognition problems with a family member can be daunting for many families. Denial, fear and difficulty initiating conversations about this sensitive subject are common barriers.

“Alzheimer’s disease is challenging, but talking about it doesn’t have to be,” said Ruth Drew, director of Information and Support Services at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Family members are typically the first to notice when something is not quite right and it’s important to discuss these concerns and follow up with your doctor.”

During Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month the Alzheimer’s Association is offering these six tips to help families facilitate conversations about Alzheimer’s and other dementias:

Read more: Tips for Talking about Alzheimer's with a Family Member

Ten Tips for Coping with Behavior Changes in Alzheimer’s Patients


If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the decline you will see in this person is caused by brain cells dying. This changes how a person acts. Some of the common changes in 
personality and behavior include Getting upset, worried, and angry more easily. Your loved one may act depressed or not interested in things. He may hide things or believe other people are hiding things. She may imagine things that aren’t there, wander away from home, or pace the floors. More extreme ways of behaving may include Showing unusual sexual behavior, hitting you or other people, or misunderstanding what he or she sees or hears. You also may notice that the person stops caring about how he or she looks, stops bathing, and wants to wear the same clothes every day.

In addition to changes in the brain, other things may affect how people with Alzheimer’s behave. They may be having health-related problems, including illness, painnew medications, or lack of sleep. Other physical issues like infections, constipation, hunger or thirst, or problems seeing or hearing can affect behavior.

Too much noise, such as TV, radio, or many people talking at once can cause frustration and confusion in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Stepping from one type of flooring to another or the way the floor looks may make the person think he or she needs to take a step down. Mirrors may make them think that a mirror image is another person in the room. For tips on creating an Alzheimer’s-safe home, visit Home Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Caregivers cannot stop Alzheimer’s-related changes in personality and behavior, but they can learn to cope with them. Here are some suggestions for understanding and coping with these changes:

Read more: Ten Tips for Coping with Behavior Changes in Alzheimer’s Patients

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Similarities and Differences

With many types of senior care available today, the types and services they include can be confusing. Although assisted living communities may have memory care units on the premises, there are important differences between this type of senior home and memory care facilities. 

Memory care is a particular type of long-term, skilled nursing that is designed specifically for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of memory problems. Also called special care units (SCUs), memory care units usually provide 24-hour supervised care. The staff in memory care are specially trained to assist people with dementia or impaired cognition.Assisted living is defined as a long-term care option that combines housing, support services and health care, as needed.  Care is available 24 hours a day, and personal care services often include medication management and transportation.

The physical layout and security of memory care facilities is designed to better suit Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, so that wandering behavior is minimized, and the environment is pleasant and easy to navigate.  Some memory care facilities offer “neighborhoods”, which are laid in such a way as to be familiar and easy to navigate.

Regulations regarding what services are offered vary from state to state in all senior care communities, but generally, both memory care and assisted living offer basic supervised care, medical monitoring, and help with daily activities such as dressing, mobility, and hygiene. Other services that are usually offered in both types of care include:

  • Access to medical care
  • Emergency call systems
  • Health and exercise programs
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Social activities and programs
  • 24-hour staff supervision and security
  • Three daily meals
  • Transportation.

Memory care often includes structured activities or programs designed to nurture residents suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

If your loved one is still relatively independent and Alzheimer’s or dementia is not an immediate concern, then assisted living may be an appropriate choice. However, if they have complex care needs associated with memory impairment, then you may want to consider memory care, or an assisted living community that also includes a special care unit for persons with dementia.


South Mountain Memory Care focuses on high-quality, personalized care. The brand new building is a stand-alone memory care community, meaning that the entire building, staff and programs are designed to serve residents with cognitive issues. To ensure person-centered care and attention, we have accommodations for up to 28 residents. The building is divided into two neighborhoods (wings), each offering 10 private suites and 2 semi-private suites. South Mountain Memory Care is located in the Allentown suburb of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and it is easily accessible from the Lehigh Valley, New Jersey and Philadelphia. For more information, go to

Communication Techniques for Caregivers of Those with Dementia

Communication Techniques for Caregivers of Those with DementiaJoin us Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 2 pm for a free informational session.

The featured speaker with be Wendy Scott, MA CPD, Elder Life Educator from LVPG Geriatric Medicine – The Fleming Memory Center.

There will be light refreshments served and participants will receive a free gift for attending.

RSVP today to 610-965-7662.

The Art Of Communication

Set a positive mood for interaction. Attitude and body language communicate feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.


Getting attention. Limit distractions and noise—turn off the radio or TV, close the curtains or shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Address the person by their name, identify yourself by name and use nonverbal cues and touch to maintain focus.


Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers work best. Refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices. For example, ask, “Would you like to wear your flowered dress or your blue dress?”. Displaying the choices helps clarify your question and can guide a response.


Break down activities into a series of steps. This makes many tasks much more manageable. You can encourage with gentle reminders. Use visual cues, mimic the directions such as where to place a crayon on paper or a fork on a plate.


When the going gets tough, distract and redirect. When managing agitated behavior try changing the subject or the environment. For example, you might say, “I see you’re feeling sad—I’m sorry you’re upset. Let’s go get something to eat.”


Respond with affection and reassurance. People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure of themselves. Further, they often get reality confused and may recall things that never really occurred. Avoid trying to convince them they are wrong.


Focus. Stay focused on the feelings that are demonstrated (which are real) and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort, support, and reassurance. Sometimes holding hands, touching, hugging, and praise will get the person to respond when all else fails.


Remember the good old days. Remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years earlier. Therefore, avoid asking questions that rely on short-term memory, such as asking the person what they had for lunch. Instead, try asking general questions about the person’s distant past—this information is more likely to be retained.


Maintain your sense of humor.

Use humor whenever possible, though not at the person's expense. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and often love to laugh!



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