Family, friends crucial in addressing Alzheimer's

Currently, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and one in three seniors dies from it. Two-thirds of Americans ages 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s are women. By 2050, the number of people ages 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach almost 13 million.

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging families to discuss cognitive concerns with each other and their doctor sooner to enable early diagnosis with its “Hopeful Together” campaign. A survey conducted by the organization found that only 44 percent of Americans would talk to a loved one right away about seeing a doctor if they noticed signs of cognitive decline. Instead, people indicated a great likelihood to check in with other relatives (56 percent) and do research online (50 percent).

“Many families are hesitant to discuss cognitive concerns even when they know something is wrong,” stated Michael Carson, chief marketing officer for the Alzheimer’s Association. “But having these critical conversations and seeing a doctor together can help facilitate early detection and diagnosis.”

The top reasons cited for not addressing the issue sooner include uncertainty about whether the changes were part of normal aging, reluctance to have a difficult conversation and not wanting to hurt a loved one’s feelings.

Ironically, more than four in five of those surveyed said they would want family members to share concerns with them if signs appear.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these steps to help ease the process.

• Identify what the loved one is doing — or not doing — that’s out of the ordinary and causing concern.

• Assess if there are any health or lifestyle issues that could be a factor, such as family stress or health issues like diabetes or depression.

• Learn about the signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias and the benefits of an early diagnosis at Do you notice any of the signs?

• Check if friends and family have noticed any concerning behavior.

• Determine who should have the conversation to discuss concerns and the appropriate time and place. It’s often best to speak one-on-one so the person doesn’t feel threatened by a group, but exercise judgment.

• Consider some of these ways to open the dialogue. “I noticed you (specific behavior) and it worried me. Has anything else like that happened?” or “How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself.”

• Ask if he or she will see a doctor and show your support by offering to go to the appointment.

• Give words of encouragement like, “There are lots of things that could be causing this. Let’s see if the doctor can help us figure out what’s going on,” and “The sooner we know what’s causing these problems, the sooner we can address it.”

• If needed, have multiple conversations. Take notes about the experience to help plan for the next conversation.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and ways to support families and people living with the disease, visit