Husbands and wives are often the first to spot changes in their spouse’s memory, behaviors and cognitive function. And it’s often they who must initiate the difficult conversations about possible memory loss.
Acknowledging your partner’s changing behaviors or memory issues can be emotional and distressing for you both, yet it’s essential to address your concerns early so interventions may be given and plans made that will honor your spouse’s care, legal and financial wishes in the future. And addressing the possibility of dementia early gives your family time to educate yourselves about the disease and be prepared for your spouse’s changing needs and behaviors.
“It’s difficult but very necessary to have the conversation as soon as signs appear,” says Danielle Buck, Director of Community Relations at YourLife™ of Stuart, a Memory Care community in Stuart, Florida. “If someone with early-onset dementia doesn’t realize it – or doesn’t want to admit it – the disease and symptoms will progress unchecked unless a loved one starts the conversation.”
BEFORE A DIAGNOSIS: Talking to Your Spouse
Make a proactive plan.
Take the time to think about what you’re going to say and how to have a respectful, productive conversation. Avoid heat-of-the-moment statements or questions that might embarrass your spouse or cause them to become defensive or unreceptive. Prior to your discussion, consider:
● Has your loved one acknowledged unusual forgetfulness or odd behaviors?
● Do they attribute their symptoms to normal aging?
● Might they resist a memory screening? Why?
● Do they fear losing independence or becoming a burden?
● Are they aware of available treatments and programs for memory loss?
● What communication approach does your loved one respond to?
● Is there someone your spouse would feel most comfortable speaking with?
Do your research.
Learning as much as you can about memory loss will help you empathize with your spouse. It will also allow you to follow your concerns with a recommended course of action, giving your loved one reassurance and a sense of control.
“Be prepared to answer questions about available treatments and next steps,” says Buck. “Learn about dementia’s stages and what types of services could benefit your loved one now and later. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, ask your spouse’s doctor’s office or attend a caregiver support group like the one at our community for information and resources.”
Select a safe space to talk.
Choose a familiar, comfortable setting with no distractions that might derail your conversation or make your spouse feel anxious. Select a time when neither of you will be rushed so you can properly address concerns, answer questions and plan the next steps.
Having the talk.
Start by saying why you’re concerned and that you love and support them. Without judgment, give specific examples of incidents or behaviors you’ve noticed. “Avoid accusatory language and exasperated tones that may put them on the defensive,” advises Buck.
Ask your loved one for their thoughts, and be a good listener. Have they noticed the same changes you have? Others? What are their concerns? Let your loved one express their feelings and opinions without interrupting, and don’t be dismissive even if you don’t agree.
Create a positive plan of action – together. Present dementia education resources and possible care, treatment and life-enhancement options such as specialized day programs to discuss with your spouse. Assure them that no plans or decisions have been made and that you need their help moving forward. End on a positive note and, if possible, with agreed-upon next steps, starting with a professional evaluation.
What if your spouse dismisses your concerns?
Despite all of your research and careful preparation, your conversation may not go as planned. Your loved one may insist they are fine, become angry or defensive, or refuse to see a doctor.
“Not all of these early conversations will end with a course of action or even agreement from your spouse that action is needed,” says Buck. “The important thing is to let them know you are concerned and you are there to support them. If you or your spouse is getting frustrated, step back and calm down before revisiting the conversation, whether that’s in a few hours or a few days.”
If your spouse still won’t acknowledge the possibility of memory loss and the need for help, consider asking a family member or friend whom your spouse trusts and respects to speak with them.
TIP: If you expect resistance from your spouse, plan to have your initial conversation shortly before an appointment with their primary care doctor and advise the doctor of your concerns. If the doctor shares your concerns, perhaps your spouse will be more receptive to a memory loss screening.
AFTER A DIAGNOSIS: Talking to Family and Friends
There’s a good chance others have been noticing changes in your spouse’s abilities and behaviors, too, but a confirmed dementia diagnosis can be devastating. Remember that every family member has a unique relationship and dynamic with your loved one, and each may require different emotional support as you deal with a spouse’s dementia as a family. Share resource materials and support group information for those interested.
Educate them about your spouse’s disease.
Discuss your loved one’s current condition and what to expect as the disease progresses through the seven stages. Young children may be frightened by their grandparent’s unexpected behaviors or anxiety; encourage kids to ask questions and answer them as honestly as you can without upsetting them. Explain to all family members that your loved one’s challenging behaviors are due to illness; they are not personal.
Ask your family members for help as your loved one’s care needs grow.
This could mean each person claims a certain responsibility, like driving your loved one to the doctor and picking up prescriptions, or family members take turns being on-call should you need assistance or a break.
Things your family and friends should know:
• Your loved one can still have fun! Trips to the park, baking or gardening, playing games and pursuing hobbies are among the countless activities that can be enjoyed by someone with memory loss.
• People with dementia can hold on to emotions – good and bad – long after they forget what made them feel that way in the first place.
• Testing their memory can cause emotional pain. Asking questions like “Do you recognize me?” or “Remember when…?” can cause frustration and embarrassment if they don’t know the answer. Instead, talk about past events and allow them to join in if they do remember.
• Your loved one can’t change back into the person they once were. Grieve the loss of your loved one as you knew them then love them for who they are now.
For more tips on how to broach concerns with your spouse or talk to your family about a dementia diagnosis, contact the team at YourLife™ of Stuart at 772-207-4191. We’ll be happy to help as well as invite you to join us for one of our upcoming events!
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Stuart was created with one purpose – to provide the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. As Memory Care specialists, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating a community that caters to each resident’s personal needs, respects their choices and honors individuality, while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.
Because Memory Care is our sole focus, we have the unique ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents. We see each resident as an individual, understanding that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities. With that information, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence.
Our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.
Through our signature programming, YourStory, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and health and wellness programming, scheduled outings and other special events to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Stuart, our residents and families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 772-207-4191 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.