The journey through a sibling’s potential dementia diagnosis can create a whirlwind of emotions, from confusion, to worry, and fear.
You may be asking yourself “What can I do?” to help your brother or sister.
This article is here to walk you through the early signs of dementia, discuss what to expect during the diagnosis, and explore the steps you can take to ensure your sibling receives the care and support they need.
Dementia is an umbrella term for many conditions, including Alzheimer’s, that cause a decline in memory, problem-solving, language, and other cognitive skills that negatively impact daily life.
Dementia happens when brain cells become damaged by excessive proteins in the brain and can’t communicate effectively with each other.
There are genetic factors involved with developing dementia, but it’s important to note that having a sibling with dementia doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop it as well.
Imagine you’re dining out with your extended family, and your brother, who’s always been sharp with numbers, is struggling to calculate the tip on a restaurant bill. Or perhaps he’s telling the same story repeatedly, unaware that he’s already shared it.
You might notice that your sibling is becoming more forgetful at times, misplacing his keys or forgetting important birthdays. These could be early signs of dementia.
Symptoms to watch out for in your siblings include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
If you suspect your sibling has dementia, it can be challenging to broach the subject.
Begin by expressing your concern in a caring and non-accusatory manner. You might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit forgetful lately, are you feeling okay?”
However, be prepared for a range of reactions, from denial, and anger, to sadness or confusion, particularly if your sibling is already experiencing memory loss or personality changes.
When handling these reactions, it’s essential to stay patient and empathetic. Encourage open, honest dialogue while reassuring your sibling and their family of your support and love.
In the case of suspected dementia, the first step is to consult a general practitioner who can refer your sibling to a neurologist, geriatrician, or psychiatrist.
Because there is no single test that can prove dementia, the diagnostic process involves the process of elimination, making sure your sibling doesn’t have other conditions that might be causing their dementia-like symptoms.
The diagnostic process involves a physical examination, a review of their medical history, and a variety of mental tests. It can also include blood tests and brain imaging to rule out other conditions.
For instance, your sibling’s dementia-like symptoms could be signs of other conditions, such as:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Thyroid problems
- Side effects from new medications
- Brain tumors
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Be there for your sibling during this process, to provide reassurance and support as they navigate this challenging time.
Dementia is often divided into seven stages, however, they can be simplified into three stages for a more general understanding.
Remember that dementia is a progressive disease, and its progression varies greatly from person to person.
Some people may remain in the early stage for years, while others may progress more rapidly through the stages.
It’s important to provide care and support at any stage to the best of your abilities.
This is when symptoms begin to appear and affect your sibling’s everyday life, although they can still function independently.
Symptoms include memory lapses, difficulty finding the right words, misplacing items, personality changes, and trouble planning or organizing.
As dementia progresses into the middle stage, symptoms become stronger and start to interfere with daily living more significantly.
Your sibling might require assistance with cooking, cleaning, and personal care. They will also be more forgetful and have trouble with complex tasks.
Behavioral changes like confusion, frustration, and withdrawal may also become more evident.
In the final stage, your sibling will require full-time assistance with daily activities and personal care. They might lose their ability to communicate or recognize loved ones and may experience difficulty walking or weight loss.
In-home care may initially seem more comforting and less disruptive and allows your sibling to stay in their home surrounded by loved ones.
However, caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding, leading to caregiver burnout or fatigue.
Deciding when to move your sibling to a memory care community is a personal decision and can be one of the most challenging decisions to make.
Some signs it might be the right time to consider this option:
- The demands of care have become too physically or emotionally taxing for you and your family members.
- Your sibling’s dementia has progressed to a point where they need professional care or supervision beyond what can be provided at home.
- Behavior issues, such as aggression, restlessness, or nighttime wakefulness or wandering, have become unmanageable.
- Your sibling’s safety at home is compromised due to wandering, falls, or difficulty managing daily tasks such as cooking.
It’s important to remember there’s no right or wrong time to make this decision, as it depends on your unique circumstances and the specific needs of your sibling.
However, early and appropriate care can slow down the progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s, ensuring your sibling lives a longer, happier quality of life.
Taking the steps today can significantly enhance your sibling’s quality of life. They’ll remember that they didn’t grow up alone and they won’t go through this alone either.
Our memory care neighborhoods, Haven and Connections, are designed to assist those from the early stages to the advanced stages of dementia in a loving, supervised environment offering a high acuity of care.
Connections is a cozy, intimate neighborhood for residents experiencing early-to-middle stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This neighborhood is specifically designed to care for residents who are showing increasing signs of memory loss. Our goal in the Connections neighborhood is to help residents be independently engaged in activities that give meaning and purpose to their days.
Haven is a soothing and peaceful neighborhood for residents with the middle-to-late stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia and designed for residents who are showing more advanced signs of memory loss.
Haven residents require a higher level of assistance and care, so our goal is to maximize comfort, minimize agitation and soothe compassionately. We strive to offer residents opportunities to become involved in ways that are meaningful.
We always extend Our Promise to love and care for your family as we do our own, helping your sibling with dementia live a fulfilling and dignified life.
We can navigate this journey together.