How to Talk to Parents About Alzheimer's


With aging comes a growing number of health concerns, from bone loss to mobility problems and beyond. In particular, cognitive decline is a serious issue that affects older adults. Nearly 10 percent of people over the age of 65 will face Alzheimer's disease during their lifetime, reports the Alzheimer's Association*. Given the progressive nature of the disease, it's important to prepare in advance for Alzheimer's in your family.

Planning for the possibility of cognitive decline and caring for elderly parents is like an insurance policy. Whether it happens or not, it's better to be prepared. A discussion can help you understand what your parents would want their care to look like if they couldn't make those decisions for themselves.

When to Talk

A conversation about your parent's declining health may be one that you're inclined to put on indefinite hold. It's hard to think of your parents, the ones that took care of you, as people that may require your care.

However, the best time to create a plan for Alzheimer's disease is before symptoms even begin. It is much easier to have a clear-headed discussion now than an emotionally charged confrontation later about forgetfulness, poor judgment, and irritability, all symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

If symptoms have already begun to surface, it may be a good idea to include your parent's physician in the conversation.

Set aside a block of time in a quiet place free from disruptions. Let your parents know that you want to have a serious conversation with them, and set the stage for a productive session. It may be helpful to include other adult family members as well.

The Script

It's important to note that as long as your parent can make decisions for themselves, they should direct their care.

An advanced directive is a document they can use to express their wishes should they later become unable to do so themselves. These documents can help your parents maintain a sense of autonomy even if they get sick.

An advanced directive is a good place to start the conversation with your parent, as it addresses general future health issues. The AARP maintains a site that links to the advance directive forms that are available in each state.

Once the advance directive is completed, you can move on to different conversations about who will help your parent with the day-to-day activities of living if they can't take care of themselves. For example:

  • Who will take you to doctor's appointments and be the main contact with your healthcare team?
  • Who will help with bathing, cooking, toileting and laundry?
  • When would it be appropriate to move you into an assisted living facility or nursing home?
  • What facility would you like to be involved in your care?
  • How would your care be managed financially? Do you have a savings for this? What type of care can we afford?

It's likely that this conversation will lead to more, as the management of Alzheimer's is complex. However, there are few more important conversations that you can have about caring for elderly parents. While an Alzheimer's diagnosis in the family is certainly never easy, having decisions in place can remove a little bit of the stress.

*The Alzheimer's Association is not responsible for information or advice provided by others, including information on websites that link to Association sites and on third party sites to which the Association links. Please direct any questions to