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Sharing a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease With Family and Friends

If you have a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel that your world, as you’ve known it, is falling apart. It is hard enough news for you to digest, let alone other family members. How to tell them? How will they react? And how will you handle their reactions?

Without question, the process of sharing difficult news like this is stressful. However, once you do so, your family and close friends will be more aware and, therefore, better able to help support you, especially in these early days. So it’s best to take a deep breath and begin. And we're here to help.

For those closest to you, if possible, arrange a visit in person. It will be less stressful for both of you. Not only will it be easier to communicate, you will feel more emotionally supported with that warm touch or hug that you probably could use right now. Of course, whether in person or in a phone call, pick a time when you are both less likely to be rushing off to work, school, or getting dinner ready.

Once you have their attention, here are some suggestions that we have found useful for others who express the same feelings and concerns. They are taken from our experience, and have also been recommended by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).

  • Don’t soft-pedal the news more than you need to. Have a thorough explanation ready as to what Alzheimer’s disease is. Many people think it is a psychological disorder, rather than a medical condition. This is your chance to educate them.
     
  • With children, keep your explanation simple. But be truthful. Make sure younger children are aware that they cannot “catch” the disease. Be careful to observe the child’s reaction. Signs of fear and worry are normal. Be loving and reassuring.  
     
  • Provide family and friends with resources. Some may even wish to attend a support group. Encourage this. It will not only help them, but they will be more supportive of you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
     
  • You can let key neighbors know in a way that respects your loved one’s privacy, yet puts them on alert. They can become helpful allies, able to intervene when your loved one needs help.
     
  • Don’t end any conversation without asking for support. By involving others, they can provide, not only emotional support, but objective insight that can be helpful downstream. Have a list ready for those trusted friends and family members who truly want to help. You will need it.

As you share this news, keep in mind that reactions may range from soft, steady words of reassurance to complete shock and disbelief. Be prepared and be patient. Remember how you felt when you first heard the news. Most will come around and be supportive.

No one can fully prepare for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. But by sharing the news with family and close friends you will find yourself better able to cope with it yourself.