Helping your family understand Dementia

When a person is diagnosed with dementia, their entire family is affected, from spouses and adult children who become caregivers, to grandchildren who may notice changes in their grandparent. The diagnosis will inevitably lead to many questions, but learning what to expect will help families to better understand the changes their loved one is experiencing.
A basic understanding of memory impairment is a good place to start. From the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging to local organizations, there are many informational resources available to help you learn the facts of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, including dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia.

Begin by learning the symptoms, and share them with other family members. Common symptoms like increased agitation and changes in personality can be hurtful or even scary, but knowing these are typical changes can help family and friends understand that the changes are a part of the disease, and are not personal.

While it’s a difficult topic to discuss with children, it’s important they are included so they too can understand that their loved one is going through changes and may not always act in the same manner the child is used to. When discussing the topic with children, try to be patient and explain in age-appropriate terms how the disease affects a person; reassure them that their loved one still cares for them; encourage them to ask questions; and remind them that their loved one still needs the support of their family despite any changes in their behavior and mood.

Witnessing the onset of dementia is incredibly difficult. Family members should know that emotions like grief, guilt and anger are perfectly normal and are nothing to be ashamed of. To manage these emotions, open communication is encouraged. I also recommend attending support groups, which are a wonderful way to meet other caregivers and families going through the same thing while learning valuable tips on how to support and provide the best of care for your loved one.

At Bridges by EPOCH at Trumbull, a local memory care assisted living community, we offer our “Memory Café” support group for caregivers at noon on the fourth Thursday of every month—the event is free, and lunch is provided. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a list of their Connecticut Chapter Support Groups. I recommend finding a group that fits your schedule and is held close to your home.

Coping with a loved one’s dementia diagnosis isn’t easy, but helping your family understand dementia is good for everyone and will help your loved one get the love, support and care they need during their own journey with memory impairment.

 Erik Hammerquist is executive director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull, a local memory care assisted living community. He will be submitting monthly health columns to The Times. He can be reached at