If you’ve noticed the early signs of dementia in your relative, it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation about it.

Here, we lay out tips on how to talk to your relatives about dementia if you think they might be showing symptoms.

There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. However, everyone’s experience of dementia is unique.

When people think of dementia, they think of memory loss and, while that is a common characteristic, the earlier signs can be much subtler. These might include changes in mood, challenges in planning ahead or misplacing objects.

If you notice your relative showing these symptoms, it’s important to broach the topic with them as soon as possible. If they do have dementia, early diagnosis can help you and them to understand what’s to come and plan appropriately.

Having a conversation about dementia can be challenging, but these tips can help to make it that little bit easier.

Senior Taiwanese couple researching dementia on laptop

Do your research

Dementia can be overwhelming and, sadly, there is a stigma attached to it. It’s important to do your research ahead of your initial conversation with your relative.

There’s plenty of advice available online but you can also look to your community. Community hubs can be a safe space to speak to someone on the best ways to approach the topic of dementia. Check in with your local library and see if they’re hosting any dementia sessions that could bring you together with other people whose relatives have dementia.

Expanding your knowledge of the condition and the different forms it can take could make you more confident in your approach to supporting your relative to get a diagnosis, and beyond that point, too.

Elderly lady take s a cup of tea from out stretched hand of daughter

Pick a comfortable time

When you do choose to sit down with your relative or friend to talk about any early signs of dementia, choose a relaxed setting. This will ideally be somewhere that is very familiar to them, where you have privacy and they feel safe.

A stressful surrounding could make the conversation stressful, too. If the person who might have dementia feels they are in a safe space, they’ll be more inclined to confide in you about how they’re feeling.

Remember that this is a conversation about them. They might already have suspicions of their own but be afraid or resistant to admitting them. Take it slowly and try to be understanding. You might need to broach the topic on more than one occasion before they are ready to talk about it.

Senior couple in park

Language

For too long, dementia has had a very negative stigma attached to it. Try to avoid using negative words when speaking to your relative about dementia symptoms.

It’s very common to see the word ‘suffer’ when it comes to talking about someone with dementia. This can cause people to fear that their lives are going to change overnight. However, people with dementia can still live their life to the full, so make sure that you reiterate this.

Try to talk about ‘living with’ dementia, to make sure they know that they have a life ahead of them. This can also help them to understand that you aren’t trying to take their life or their independence away by suggesting they seek a diagnosis.

two mature women mother and daughter-in-law

Create a plan together

If your relative does receive a diagnosis of dementia, it’s important to have a plan for their future. It’s vital that the person living with dementia is a part of those discussions wherever possible.

Listen to what they want to do, whether that’s moving to a new house or appointing a power of attorney, and build the future together.

Following a dementia diagnosis, it can be scary to think about what the future holds but if you are openly talking to the person with dementia about how to make their future positive, they will feel more in control.

elderly man sat in chair holds hands with daughter

Offer your support

A dementia diagnosis can be daunting, so offering your support is the most important part of the conversation.

Let your relative know that you will be there for them during this complicated and confusing time. Accompany them to GP visits if they want you to, or just meet them for a cup of tea to chat about how they’re feeling and let them confide in you. The more open you are early on, the easier it will get down the line.

When my father was diagnosed with early on-set dementia in his early 50s, it was a time of massive uncertainty. You can’t be prepared for what the future holds, but you can do all you can to speak with your friend or relative and be a part of their lives.

It’s important to remember that they’re the same person, even though you’ll start to see changes as their dementia progresses. Maintaining a high quality of life is fundamental, so use this time to make sure they’re living the life they want to lead.

John Ramsay, Founder and Chief Executive, Shift8*