How to talk to your parents about Alzheimer’s care

We’ve all forgotten a name, whether we switched off the iron, or even put our car keys in places they don’t belong. But if you’re starting to notice that one, or both, of your parents is having trouble remembering how to carry out everyday life activities, it could be a sign of a more serious memory problem such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Broaching the subject of care with a parent can be difficult, as Matt Ridell* found three years ago when his Dad started to show the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Here, he shares his experience and some advice on ways to sensitively start a conversation around aged care.

Spotting the signs

Matt first noticed his Dad was having memory problems on Christmas Day in 2014, when he confidently greeted him with the wrong name.

“When my family and I arrived the majority of everyone was already there, including Mum and Dad,” says Matt. “I said ‘hi’ to my Mum with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then stretched out my hand to shake Dad’s. His hand met mine with the usual firm grip as he said, ‘Great to see you Keiran!’”

As Christmas lunch progressed, Matt’s Dad continued to call all of the family members by the wrong names, including calling Matt by his son’s name at one point.

After the festive season, the family noticed similar incidents occurring more frequently, which prompted Matt and his siblings to discuss the next steps. Matt called on his sister Beck to meet their parents to initiate the conversation and suggest they move closer to their support network.

But things didn’t quite go to plan.

Changing approach

“Here’s the thing I’ve learnt about these discussions,” says Matt. They are unexpected and you need to be prepared before you have them. Beck went in with the idea that my parents had to move and that wasn’t ever the case. Anyway, we decided not to push the issue.”

Some months later, Matt was in the car with his parents (his Dad behind the wheel) and his Mum was subtly directing him, even though it was an area that his Dad knew very well. Matt wondered why she hadn’t mentioned to the family that his Dad’s condition was becoming more serious – then it became clear.

“I realised, we approached the situation by asking them to move, she probably felt like she couldn’t tell us because she wasn’t sure what our response would be and she was just too afraid to risk it,” says Matt.

Arming yourself with information

While Matt’s parents currently live at home without any assistance, he is planning to reopen the dialogue around care now that he feels more prepared to handle it. He advises other people in a similar situation to avoid his original approach of just turning up at their parent’s door and suggesting something that they don’t want to do.

Research, Matt says, is key. “I’ve found out now that there are lots of options for home care after jumping online. It was easy to find. There were all these amazing services like Five Good Friends, that are more flexible and can keep my parents at home and independent.”

“If you do have the opportunity to talk to your parents, take it, but make it a good one so they get the help they need and you get the peace of mind that they’re okay.”

For more information about Alzheimer’s and the warning signs, visit Dementia Care Australia.

*Matt Riddell’s name has been changed to protect the privacy of his family.

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