(WOMENSENEWS)–How do you start the conversation? How do you tell someone close to you that you’ve noticed some changes in his or her behavior that concern you — forgetfulness, difficulty with activities of daily living, etc.? And, then, how do you convince that person to get a memory check-up?

It’s daunting to bring up concerns about memory, as people’s minds typically jump right to , which disproportionately affects women. Of the more than 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease, nearly two-thirds are women. Women are also much more likely to shoulder the responsibility for caregiving, which could mean looking after someone who has Alzheimer’s. But addressing memory concerns early on can help determine the cause and put your loved one on the path to proper treatment.

When you start discussing memory issues, the person you love may balk at your impressions of her. She may become anxious, fearful or even combative. But she may also have noticed a change in her abilities and been too embarrassed to ask for help. Engaging in an honest, productive discussion is challenging, but necessary. It’s a conversation that we at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America urge you to pursue.

A Routine Check-up

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America encourages people to get their memory tested, and really, to think of it as they would any other routine health check-up. We have teamed with a number of organizations, including libraries, assisted living facilities, home care agencies and other community groups throughout the country, to offer free, confidential memory screenings. Screenings consist of a series of questions and tasks and last only about 10 minutes. The screenings take stock of memory, language skills and thinking ability. It’s important to keep in mind that memory screenings are not a diagnosis, but they can signal whether someone should follow up with a physician for a more thorough evaluation.

It’s possible that the memory loss is the result of a condition that can be treated and often cured, such as a thyroid disorder, vitamin deficiency or depression. However, if memory issues are a function of , an early diagnosis could afford the opportunity to take advantage of clinical trials or treatments that may help slow the decline in memory and other functions. In addition, knowing the diagnosis while your loved one still has cognitive abilities can allow her to participate in other important conversations. This is essential in helping to navigate the many medical, legal and financial decisions that must be made. It also eases the burden on family caregivers.

5 Tips

If your loved one is diagnosed with , keep these communication tips in mind:

  1. Be sensitive. Consider the person’s feelings and emotional state, as well as her ability to remember, reason and make decisions. She may not be able to fully understand the diagnosis or may get defensive. If this occurs, accept her reaction and avoid further discussions of the disease at that particular moment. You may want to disclose the diagnosis at a "family conference" attended by the individual with the disease, other family members and a social worker, as well as a health care professional who has experience working with cognitively impaired individuals.

  2. When you sense the time is right, provide the person with beneficial follow-up information, such as an explanation of symptoms and the importance of continued care.

  3. Treat the person with respect, and don’t downplay the disease. As the dementia progresses, remain open to the person’s need to talk about her illness and its implications–such as her ability to work, drive and manage finances.

  4. Allow your loved one to express her feelings, which may include anger, frustration and disappointment. Be aware of non-verbal signs of sadness, anger or anxiety, and respond with love and reassurance.

  5. Reassure your loved one. Let her know that you will provide ongoing help and support.

We may not have the answers to all the questions, but we do know that talking about Alzheimer’s is essential. If you have concerns about a loved one’s memory, take that first step and encourage her to take advantage of a free memory screening. To learn more go to nationalmemoryscreening.org.

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