As part of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging families to have conversations about memory or cognitive issues.
According to a news release, a new survey released last week by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that nearly nine in 10 Americans experiencing memory loss, thinking problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline would want others to tell them and share their concerns. However, nearly three out of four Americans say talking to a close family member about memory loss, thinking problems or other signs of cognitive problems would be challenging for them.
According to the Association, Alzheimer’s is America’s sixth leading cause of death, affecting more than 5 million Americans and 16 million caregivers.
Cheryl Kinney, Senior Director of Client Services and Quality Programs, said the survey shows people feel it is important to have an evaluation if they are having memory concerns, yet caregivers hesitate to talk about it and sometimes wait for a doctor to start the conversation.
“Having the family understand the importance of early diagnosis, we can overcome a lot of barriers to that. It’s so critical for people to know what they are dealing with,” Kinney said. “It could be treatable and reversible. By starting the conversation then having an evaluation, they may have peace of mind knowing it’s not Alzheimer's, it’s something else that could be treated. If it is Alzheimer's, the sooner they are under a doctor’s care and get treatment and connect to support, it’s better for the person and caregiver to deal with it.”
The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to help facilitate difficult conversation:
• Have the conversation as early as possible.
• Think about who is best suited to initiate the conversation.
• Practice conversation starters.
• If needed, have multiple conversations.
Kinney said when she spoke to her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, she used her grandmother’s words.
“If my family member were to say, ‘I’m having trouble remembering some things’ or ‘I can’t remember the ingredients for my Thanksgiving recipe,’ that opens the window for saying, ‘I’ve noticed a few things too and I wonder if we could talk about that a little bit,” she advised.
“... Also asking them to participate in that conversation — if you say, ‘how have you been feeling lately, you haven’t seemed like yourself, what’s going on,’ they might say something like, ‘I’m under a lot of stress.’ If something worrying them, let’s deal with that. If it’s, ‘I don’t know, I used to be able to do these things,’ … the next step is to say, there’s lots of things that could cause these things, it’s important we don’t make an assumption, let’s talk to your doctor about it.”
Kinney said family members should look for changes in an individual’s behavior, cautioning that it should be in comparison to that person’s normal behavior, not in comparison to someone else’s abilities.
Examples include a change in ability to balance a checkbook, recalling information, keeping track of appointments, and being able to use the remote control or their cellphone. Alz.org offers a list of 10 warning signs to watch for.
It could also be signaled by a change in personality. The person may be more frustrated, agitated or withdrawn because they’re struggling and aren’t sure why they’re having trouble in some of these areas.
She also noted signs of Alzheimer’s are different than normal aging. Many people can have problems remembering something, but when they have issues with doing things they could before, like recalling the names of their children or grandchildren, it could be a sign of something more than aging.
After families have those initial conversations, the next step is having another conversation with a health care provider. Depending on the diagnosis, families can then connect with the Alzheimer’s Association for resources, guidance and support.
Kinney said the Association offers care consultations in person or over the phone with families to provide more in-depth information like resources available, support groups available, and actions to take to plan for the future.
“Being socially engaged is something that can help a person with Alzheimer’s,” Kinney said. “When a person is isolated and cut off from other people they tend to not do as well. Another key thing, if they do have an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis, by knowing early they can plan for the future, get legal and financial affairs in order, have discussions about care options, what they would want their case to be if things progress and they need support.”
June also includes The Longest Day on June 21, which is the summer solstice. Participants are encouraged to help fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice, using their creativity to raise funds and awareness for the Association.
“It’s a way for people to help raise awareness and raise funds for services we have available for families,” Kinney said. “It’s something you can do to honor a loved one, they can feel they’re doing something important to help address this disease.”