Q&A with Ric Cavanagh: Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease

Ric Cavanagh - Certified Alzheimer’s Homecare Trainer

Each week we will be featuring a question and answer with our Director of Staff Development, Ric Cavanagh, M.S.W., about Alzheimer’s disease and what to do when your elderly parent is diagnosed. Keep an eye out every Tuesday for Ric’s Alzheimer’s Q&A.

Have a question for Ric? Visit our “Contact Us” page to submit your question and Ric’s response will be posted on the EasyLiving blog.

Q: How do I go bring up my concerns with Mom or Dad and talk about getting help?

A: With a great deal of caution, caring and compassion.  There is a rule of thumb in caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease: you will never win an argument with someone who has dementia.  Denial is their first line of defense; they will project blame on you. It is frightening for people to comprehend the fact that they might be losing their ability to think, communicate and reason. It is embarrassing when they get lost driving to the same grocery store that they’ve patronized for many years.  They’re literally losing control over their own lives, and it’s terrifying.

So here are a few suggestions for addressing this issue with parents and loved ones:

  • Confront your own denial about their condition. Discuss the issue honestly with the rest of your family.
  • Search the Web site of the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) and use this organization as a resource for factual information.
  • Start the discussion as soon as you begin noticing changes in their ability to remember things or their behavior/personality.
  • Don’t wait until a crisis happens to raise the issue.
  • Discuss the issue in a calm and supportive manner.
  • Don’t preach, accuse or loudly confront your parents or loved ones.  This will likely upset them and cause an automatic, defensive reaction instead of an honest examination of your concerns.
  • Try to get them to talk about their own feelings about what they are dealing with right now.
  • Take small steps in talking about the issues over time – don’t turn this into a confrontation.
  • Assure them that you and the rest of the family will always be there to support them.
  • For additional help, contact a local therapist or geriatric care manager who specializes in dealing with older clients with dementia.