How to talk about dementia with loved ones this Christmas

It’s that time of year when family descend from across the country for a festive celebration. At this time of year we often see relatives we haven’t seen in a while. During these celebrations, it’s common to notice changes in how a loved one behaves, and while it can be nothing to worry about, it can also be a signal of the beginning of a health issue.

If a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or is exhibiting any symptoms, it can be extremely difficult speaking about it, but these tips should help make broaching the subject a little easier:

Get your head around dementia

There are a lot of myths surrounding dementia, which can make understanding the condition challenging. Dementia isn’t a disease, but rather an umbrella term for a number of related conditions. Early symptoms can include memory loss, mood changes, difficulty concentrating and confusion, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. When it comes to dementia, it is important to recognise that it’s an individual experience, with people experiencing symptoms differently, so try and avoid making generalisations. If you are starting to recognise symptoms, such as when a loved one struggles to find the right word, don’t jump the gun and assume that all the symptoms apply.

Find local resources

Before speaking to your loved one, look into what support is available to them in the local area and familiarise yourself with the sites that provide advice and guidance. The NHS and Dementia UK have some excellent guides ranging from ‘Understanding changes in behaviour’ through to ‘Planning for the future”. There are hundreds of community hubs in the UK for you to turn to, including libraries and the Dementia Club UK, which provide you with a safe space for you to discuss any concerns you may have and offer advice on activities you and your loved on can take part in. When my father was diagnosed, he was reluctant to go to a day centre, as he was still very much in the early stages and didn’t feel as though he needed to go. Since then, there has been a plethora of community spaces which have become dementia friendly, making it much easier to find a place to talk and relax in.

Think about the language you use

The language we use to talk about a health condition can often be make or break during family conversations, as if something is said flippantly it can really impact a relationship. Once your loved one has been diagnosed, it is important to remember that they are the same person they were before the diagnosis. There is a tendency to suddenly start talking about that relative as a victim or sufferer, which implies that they can no longer have a meaningful and enjoyable life. This simply isn’t the case. Despite there not being a cure, there are still a number of lifestyle changes one can make to allow the individual to continue to live an active and fulfilled life, with some even slowing down the process. Try switching words such as ‘sufferers’ for phrases including ‘living with’ and rather than viewing dementia as a disease, view it as a journey. This will quickly change the tone of a conversation and help put everyone involved at ease.

While having this conversation can feel overwhelming, it is important that you address it early on and make sure that everyone is comfortable with future steps. You will slowly start to witness changes in their personality and behaviour, but hold onto the fact that despite the condition, they are still the same person, who wants to continue to create happy memories with you.