How To Respond When A Loved One is Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

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After my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (check out that post here), it hit my family hard. Even though all the signs were there I think we were all hoping that it could be something else, something treatable. After getting over the shock and allowing a few days to settle in, my mom, dad, and I sat around the kitchen table, wine and cocktails in hand, and discussed what we should do now.

When we finally had the conversation, nothing really came out of it. We moved forward with seeking a second opinion, but asking about my mom’s life wants and needs were somehow omitted. We can still have those conversations now, but we have a hard time focusing on the conversation to really dive into the topic.

About a month ago, I took a training course for work lead by the amazing Katrina Kennedy. During the training, Katrina taught the class how to have a focused conversation. A focused conversation, while meant for training groups, can actually be used when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. The focused conversation helps to create meaningful dialogue, broaden perspective, and brings out clear ideas and conclusions. I’m sharing this with you because it is something I wish we had done with my mom shortly after she was diagnosed.

Step 1: Ask What?

It is such an easy question to ask and can lead to so many responses. Asking “what” lets your loved one dive into their senses and respond candidly. They don’t need to think about it they can just respond.

  • What stood out to you from the appointment?
  • What do you recall from what the doctor said?
  • What caught your attention from the appointment or about the diagnosis?

Step 2: Focus On The Gut

I don’t mean to ask if your loved one is hungry or feeling sick. Focus on the gut feelings gets the good and the bad reaction to the news. Have your loved one reflect on their response to the situation.

  • What worked for you in the communication? What didn’t work for you in the communication?
  • What was clear about the visit? What was confusing?
  • How do you feel about what the doctor said?
  • What do you like about the doctor? What do you not like?

Step 3: Ask So What?

“So what” allows your loved one to interpret the diagnosis and the situation that has just changed their entire life. It may take a minute to find the words or divulge the information, so be patient and give them time to process before they answer.

  • What does this mean for us now?
  • What questions do you have about this?
  • What additional information should we seek?
  • What difference will this make?

Step 4: Ask Now What?

The last step. You have touched on the immediate observation, the feelings, and the interpretation of the information provided by the doctor. You have absorbed it all. Now, what will allow your family and your loved one to make some decisions? This is where you can start planning for what is next to come.

  • What will you do differently when you return to work? Will you return to work?
  • What does this mean for the future?
  • What action items has this triggered for you? What do you want to do about it?
  • What do you think our next steps should be?

Have A Focused Conversation

So I realize that everyone’s situation is different. This technique for a focused conversation may only work if your loved one has mild or moderate cognitive impairment. That said, the conversation does not only need to happen with your loved one. You need to have a conversation with yourself. As a caregiver, you need to evaluate all the pieces too because your life is also changing. So have a focused conversation. Write your answer in a journal. Have the conversation with a parent, sibling, or family member. Let someone you trust ask you the questions and see how you respond.

The focused conversation has helped me really evaluate what is happening at each stage of the disease that my mom goes through. It has helped me analyze and determine what is important for me and for her. I hope it will do the same for you. Try having a focused conversation wither with your loved one or your family, let me know how it goes!

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