What to Do if You Suspect Dementia: A Step-by-Step Guide for Loved Ones

Noticing changes in a loved one that could be signs of dementia is incredibly difficult. You might feel a mix of fear, confusion, and a strong desire to help but not know where to start. This guide breaks down the process, offering support and direction through each essential step.

Step 1:  Observation and Awareness

  • Pay Close Attention: Memory lapses happen to everyone, but potential signs of dementia are about patterns and increasing severity. Does your loved one struggle with daily tasks they used to handle easily? Are personality changes becoming noticeable?
  • Be Specific with Examples: It’s easy to dismiss things as “just getting older.” Instead, document specifics: “Dad couldn’t find his way home from a route he’s driven for years,” or “Mom asked me who I was three times in an hour.”
  • Track the Changes: Even a simple notebook helps you see if things are worsening over time, whether it’s weeks or months. This information is invaluable when seeking medical evaluation.

Step 2:  Talk to Your Support Circle

  • Consult Other Loved Ones: Your observations are important, but others might have noticed things too. Discreetly talk to other family members or close friends for their perspective.
  • Discuss Together: Openly share your concerns in a private setting with those who love this person. It prepares everyone for the possibility of dementia and allows you to plan the next steps as a team.
  • Remember, You’re a Team: Supporting someone with dementia takes a village. Agreeing on how to approach your loved one and the need for outside help early on makes the process smoother for everyone.

Step 3:  Encourage a Medical Checkup

  • Why a Doctor’s Visit is Vital: Only a healthcare professional can assess the changes you’ve observed. They’ll rule out treatable conditions like vitamin deficiencies or medication side effects that sometimes mimic dementia. If it IS dementia, early diagnosis is crucial for treatment and planning.
  • Start the Conversation with Care: This is sensitive. Avoid accusatory words like “You’re losing it.” Instead, emphasize: “I love you and some things worry me. Can we see the doctor to make sure you’re okay?”
  • Offer to Accompany Them: If your loved one allows, being there ensures you can fully explain your observations to the doctor and advocate for the necessary tests.

Step 4:  Gather Information and Support

  • Reach Out to Reliable Sources: Don’t let “Dr. Google” be your only source. Explore:
    • Alzheimer Society of Canada: https://alzheimer.ca/ – Practical information, support groups, resources for families from diagnosis onwards.
    • Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging: https://ccna-ccnv.ca/ – Research updates, links to provincial resources, and ways to get involved in clinical trials.
  • Find a Caregiver Community: Even if it’s not yet an official diagnosis, joining a support group gives you a safe space to share your experience without judgment. Knowing others are on this journey too breaks down that sense of isolation.
  • Don’t Neglect Your Own Needs: Learn about respite care (temporary help so you can rest) early. Burnout is a real risk for caregivers, so prioritize self-care even in small ways – a walk, joining a book club, anything to recharge.

Step 5: Focus on Quality of Life

  • Celebrate What They CAN Do: As dementia progresses, finding activities that allow them to succeed becomes paramount. Adapt hobbies into simpler versions or explore new ones suited to their current abilities.
  • Safety and Dignity Matter: Discreetly make their home safer (removing trip hazards, ensuring good lighting) as needed. Always treat them with the respect any adult deserves, even when the disease makes them behave in unexpected ways.
  • Seek Joy in Little Things: Connection remains possible even in advanced stages. A familiar song, the scent of their favorite flower, a soft massage – these little moments of comfort and love matter.

Additional Notes

  • The Path is Unique: Everyone’s experience with dementia is different. Seek out support groups or resources specific to the type your loved one is diagnosed with.
  • Provincial Resources: Search “[Province Name] Dementia Support” for help tailored to your area.
  • Patience is Key: There will be good days and bad days. Give yourself and your loved one grace, and celebrate the small victories.

Remember: Seeking help is a sign of strength and love. You are not alone!

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