It’s Time to Talk About Alzheimer’s
Close family members are typically the first to notice the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, but they are often hesitant to say something – even when they know something is wrong. In fact, in the 2019 Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month (ABAM) survey, nearly 3 in 4 Americans said that talking to a close family member about memory loss, thinking problems, or other signs of cognitive problems would be challenging for them.
When something feels different, it could be Alzheimer’s—now is the time to talk.
When did they know it was time to talk?
Some of our staff members and constituents shared with us when they knew it was time to talk to their loved ones about Alzheimer’s disease. Here are their stories:
“Mom is a strong full-blooded German woman. Mom had not been “herself” for a while. It seemed as though she wasn’t really listening to me as I spoke to her. Her eyes would sort of glaze over and she would repeat things I told her, as though my words were her own thoughts.
I was driving down the freeway one day, when my cell phone rang. It was Dad. I told him I was just thinking of him. We both said to each other at the same time, “There is something wrong with Mom!”
We went back and forth sharing our observations as we compared notes on things from conversations to tasks that she was having trouble completing. We decided that I would approach Mom about her appointments, suggesting that she need to make them, and Dad would play bad cop and get her to them.” – Leslie Woodfill, Walk Manager
“I never could remember names. My excuse? My Army career never required me to, your nametag is sewn to the uniform. I convinced myself that I could not remember names because I never had to and used that as an excuse in social situations. A denial…
I started bird watching after a military retirement. I was good at it—good enough to survey for the government and also to teach others. I could identify birds by their song. It was fun, a challenge and got me outdoors. Somewhere along the line, at some time in the past, I saw a common bird and its name was just not there. I looked at it and went blank. A clue I should not have ignored.
My college degree is in mathematics. Not applied but theoretical math. While studying metrology charts (another hobby was weather), I could not recall the difference between the mean, median and mode for the data the article was using. OK, so I forgot. Looking up the definitions and trying to remember this information did not help. Another clue I ignored. To this day I still cannot remember two of the three definitions.
Sometime before 2016, maybe 2014/15, as part of my annual physical exam at the VA, I finally talked with my doctor about my memory problems.” – Warren Walker, Alzheimer’s advocate from Spokane
“My mom was officially diagnosed in 2014. Interestly enough, we think mom received the diagnosis before the family officially became aware of it. We began to notice her contacting us and relying on us for things that she was previously very capable of handling on her own. She was very independent and we first started to notice her lack of record keeping and less attention to detail and lack of housekeeping. Looking back it seems obvious, but in the moment they were just kind of incidental things. It was an interesting challenge because she would want us to help with things and then not want the help.”
“At the time it was really hard because we didn’t know how serious it was. Mom was very prideful and independent. We spent about 9 months of dancing around the subject and taking her to the doctor until finally we got her to a neurologist to get an official diagnosis.” – Riene Simpson, Region 1 Financial Director
Why is it important to have the conversation?
The 2019 ABAM survey revealed that nearly 9 in 10 Americans would want others to tell them if they were showing signs of memory loss, thinking problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline.
Initiating conversations when you first notice signs of Alzheimer’s is vital and enables someone to receive an early diagnosis. This offers a wealth of benefits, both for the person diagnosed with the disease and their loved ones. It allows people to make important decisions about what kind of care they wish to have in the future, make legal and financial arrangements and participate in clinical trials. People can also begin developing a support system early; something that will sustain them through the course of the disease. It also provides individuals with the best opportunity to spend time with important people in their lives and to focus on doing the activities they enjoy.
How do I start the conversation?
The Alzheimer’s Association is here to help you have these difficult conversations.
- We offer Conversation Starters as part of the “Our Stories” Ad Council campaign. This interactive site offers sentences you can use to start talking to a loved one.
- Visit Approaching Memory Loss Concerns on our website, where we offer tips and printable worksheets to help guide you through the process.
- Not sure how to proceed? Still have questions? Call us, any time day or night, at 1-800-272-3900. Our Masters-level clinicians can offer information, guidance and support. You can also get linked to local resources, including some of the programs offered here at the Washington State Chapter.