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How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

Here are some tips on how to talk to a parent with dementia. Something I have experienced in life was dealing my dads dementia diagnosis. This was a really hard time but I think to share this insight will help anyone who has family members who are experiencing memory loss or cognitive decline.

As we age, we not only have to think about ourselves but also our elderly parents. Alzheimer’s disease, which is a form of dementia, effects more than 6 million Americans.

Symptoms of Dementia

Early signs of dementia include not recognizing names or people, remembering when they ate last, confusion and difficulty remembering recent conversations or events. It can also effect a person’s ability to make big and important decisions. In the early stages of the disease it may be hard to detect if it is indeed dementia or simply being a little forgetful.

When my dad didn’t pass his medical exam for his work (he was a bus driver), that’s when things started to unfold quickly. After being forced into retirement, the dementia-like symptoms really started to progress and we were able to pick up on that this is something more serious because of his behavior changes.

As this is a challenging time, when it is an earlier diagnosis, the adult children have a chance to step in and find the help they need.

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Communication tips on how to talk to a parent with dementia

My mom was the main caregiver for my dad until she passed away. I remember walking into the house and wondering why certain things were labeled, like for instance “underwear drawer” or “spoons”. At that time, she didn’t let me know he had a dementia diagnosis and that things weren’t so great. But those visual cues were enough for me to start asking open-ended questions.

Come to find out, he no longer knew where his socks were or where to find toothpaste.

My first tip would be when you notice a sudden change in things, make the time to have the difficult conversation. Parents don’t always let us know what is happening and it really sucks to have to bring this up with the whole family.

Decisions need to be made as you don’t know the mental state of your parents or how bad the memory problems really are.

Discuss family caregivers

Every family situation is different. If both parents are still living, the spouse often takes over. But with some older adults, maybe one parent has a health condition that they aren’t able to fully take on a spouse with dementia. Or only one parent may be living.

Dementia is hard. There is a lot of frustration and sadness. Finding your parent’s caregiver is crucial.

There is also long-term care facilities or in-home care options.

Another option is assisted living. As the dementia symptoms increase, you will have to think about their general safety. Dementia patients are known to drive somewhere and not remember how to get home, leave the stove on or walk out the door and get lost. Aggressive behaviors are also common.

Their personal care and upkeep is important and this is something to think about as well.

My dad got scared of showers and needed the assistance of simple hygiene.

Making sure they are in a safe environment is one of the most important things.

The first step is going to seek the advice of medical professionals. Start with being present at your parents doctor visits and making sure they are getting the proper medical care. It’s a good idea to be there when they are discussing symptoms, progression and such because they may have a hard time communicating or even remembering why they are there.

The doctor will make a decision on whether this is dementia and if they need special care.

It’s good to keep a caring tone of voice when you talk to a parent with dementia

Talking about your parents health decline can be such a challenging conversation to have. In order to have a successful conversation, do a lot of listening. Yes, there will be lots of questions you need to ask but listening and observing will help you see body language and facial expressions. Which is important because as I mentioned, it took my mom a really long time to tell me exactly what’s happening.

It helps to keep them doing their daily activities

When talking to your parents, encourage them to stay social or do the activities that they love.

With dementia there will be bad days. They may be moody, confused, and scared.

Keeping them engaged in an activity will help them feel good about themselves and will brighten their mood.

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In the late stage of dementia, they will revert back to the past

This is very common. And what this means exactly is that for example, I was 42 but my dad was asking me how college is going. At this point he didn’t remember his grandchild and never failed that he was going to ask about my college classes.

He started speaking in his native language again which was Spanish. Since my Spanish isn’t that great, I would simply nod my head and go on about the conversation.

Hallucinations can happen. Such as there was a painting on the wall and my dad said he wanted to go there to walk in “that park”.

When your parent starts talking about things that don’t make sense, it may hard for them to find the right words. To keep effective communication going, it’s a great idea to stay calm and kind of go along with it.

For instance, some days I would say “college is going great dad” and some days would be “no dad, I’m not in college anymore, I work full-time now!” Meanwhile always keeping my tone light and cheerful.

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Find Support Groups

Finding a support group is great for your mental health. I can’t stress this enough- whether you will be a short term care taker or one of your parents, the stress of it all can take a toll on you. During this difficult time, the caregivers have to take care of themselves too.

Support groups are a great way to talk about your daily struggles, cry and just to know you are not alone in this.

A social worker can help you find a support group and also the Alzheimer’s Association can help you find support groups in your area.

Additional Resources on how to talk to a parent with dementia

Parents might be indecisive about what they want to do, so it’s good idea to do research on your end and present to them some options.

When it’s time to start looking for residential care or a memory care facility, you will want to go check out these facilities in person. See how the staff interacts with residents, check if they have activities available or amenities like transportation to doctors appointments ( just in case you or a another family isn’t available to take them)

Ask a close friend to go with you for support.

You will want to ask about cost, what is included and make sure to have access to their important health care info like phone numbers, insurance card information and PCP’s.

There is also information services such as A Place for Mom. They will help with the difficult task of seeking the right environment for your parent.


This is indeed one of the most difficult situations in life. I’m hoping that this resource will give you plenty of time to figure out what their treatment options are and that this information will bring more good days than bad.

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Do you want to try mediation and don’t know if it’s for you? Be sure to check my article on 3 Meditation Misconceptions.

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