Talking about brain health

Are you concerned a loved one may have dementia? If so, be careful how you bring it up. It’s a scary subject!

Before jumping to conclusions, gather some information. Ask family members and close friends what they have observed. Have others noticed changes?

Think of the issue as one of “brain health.” Brains change as we age. Using words such as “Alzheimer’s” or “dementia” is premature. There are many—over 70—changes in brain health that can affect memory and thinking.

Consider these talking tips:

  • Ask if he or she has noticed changes. They may not have noticed or may deny it. They may have forgotten. Or they may have noticed and are also wondering (and scared!).
  • Emphasize there are many things that can contribute to fuzzy thinking – and ways to address them. Dehydration. Depression. Medication side effects. Not enough sleep. Isolation and lack of social stimulation.
  • Make it clear you are a team. It’s their body and brain. Your role is one of support. “I love you and I’m worried about you. Let’s explore this together.”
  • Approach the issue with curiosity. It’s not about proving you are right and they have a problem. It’s about learning if their brain needs some extra support, much the way a sore knee may do better with medication and a brace.
  • Remove barriers. “Medicare pays for an annual exam that includes a review of brain health.” “I can take you to the doctor. Even go in with you if you want. Or you can go in by yourself.”
  • Get a full evaluation. Ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can do a complete assessment. Not all thinking problems are Alzheimer’s. It’s good to get a firm diagnosis.
  • Be patient. This conversation may need to happen several times over weeks or months.

Is memory loss a concern?
As the Iowa City, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids experts in family caregiving, we at Iowa City Hospice can help you navigate this sensitive subject. Give us a call at 1-800-897-3052, toll-free. You don’t have to do this alone.