How do we tell family about Mom's memory loss before they see her for Christmas?

Warning Family About Mom's Memory Loss Before Holidays
4 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My sister and I take care of my mom. Her memory has declined significantly in the last six months and we're afraid of how our family will react when they see her over the Christmas break. What steps should we take to prepare family members aobut Mom's declining memory? Should we tell everyone? Or should we only tell certain people? We come from a very large Italian family, so there is always lots of people over for Christmas. Thanks for any suggestions.

Expert Answers

Merrily Orsini, MSSW, was a pioneer in the business of providing geriatric care managed in-home care. She currently serves on the board of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and is Chair of the Private Duty Homecare Association. She holds a master's degree in social work and is a nationally known writer and speaker on aging, elder issues, and in-home care.

How terrible for you to have to deal with this. And how awful for your mom that she is lapsing. Questions for you: have you had her checked out by a geriatric specialist to rule out any organic causes? In addition to medication and depression, there are several other factors that might cause the decline, and those are reversible. Also, having a medical opinion is best when planning options for the future- care, cost of care, etc.

Back to the original question about your Mom's memory loss and holiday events, the best tactic is the truth. And specifics will help. What are the behaviors? When is the decline most noticeable? Are there behaviors that she does repeatedly that seem to bring her calmness? Are there things that seem to agitate her more than others? And let them know, in a logical, calm fashion. The things that she used to do for the family to celebrate will also need to be divvied up. That task assignment is also a great ice breaker. Suggestion, "Mom has always baked the holiday turkey and this year that needs to fall on someone else. She is just not up to it this year." Then you add in the specifics so they are prepared.

Also, all of the family needs to read up on how to work with someone who has a dementia. If hers is progressive dementia, it will get worse, and she will not be the "Mom" that everyone knows.

There are also activities that will be great for her to participate in, and some that should be done without her. The key is to keep her calm and happy and let others serve her.

Community Answers

Carolyn l. rosenblatt answered...

Your family needs to know about mom's memory problem. It is going to eventually affect everyone and there is no point in trying to keep the truth from anyone. I suggest that you go onto the Alzheimer's Assn. website and look for the comparison list of normal memory loss compared with dementia-related memory loss. You can print it out, and send it to all via an email or letter. I suggest a simple, compassionate and honest explanation that mom now has some memory loss and it is important for all to understand this so that you can enjoy her how she is now and be aware of the problem. I would get as much specific information from that very useful website as you can, and share it with anyone in the family who is interested enough to ask questions. (Some will avoid the subject, believe me). You and your sister can offer suggestions about what makes mom happy and how to get her to have fun at the family gathering. Focus on her enjoyment, and on keeping everything you say or write simple. How your family reacts beyond that is their responsibility, not yours.

Brenda avadian answered...

Since you come from a large family, it might be easier for you and your sister to share with certain family members about your mom's memory loss before they come to visit.

However, they may not be able to appreciate the full extent of her condition. It is hard to imagine the reality of memory loss until you experience it day to day as you do.

Also know that your mother may be on her best behavior as she tries to show her best face to fellow family members OR she may be so overwhelmed by the excitement of the gathering, she may behave in ways that may surprise even you and your sister--her caregivers.

My heart goes out to you; yet I feel confident that your large Italian family will be loving, regardless of how your mom is.

The caregiving journey, especially for one with memory loss, provides an education for all of us.

Gorilla gaurd answered...

There was a time when we (our kids and I) tried to keep my wife's dementia a secret...looking back, I don't know why. But as her condition became worse, and continues to decline, I keep our extended family and close friends informed. This has generated a great deal of support, albeit from afar. As a care giver, i feel connected and not so lonely. Everyone knows my dear wife and the mother, sister and friend of others is battling a cruel, unyielding disease.