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Serving families in Palm Beach, Martin and Port St. Lucie counties

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Protecting Alzheimer's Patients from Bad News

Judie Rappaport
Eldercare 911: The Caregiver's Complete Handbook for Making Decisions
May 24, 2011

Now What…?

“My sister said, ‘she’ll never forgive us if we don’t tell her.’  My brother said,

she doesn’t need to know.’  Uncle Carl said, ‘she said she’s coming to the funeral, how can we prevent her knowing?’   I said ‘No, we’re absolutely not telling her’ and all hell broke loose—the yelling and insults sounded like a close ballgame.  No opinions changed.  We still disagreed whether to tell our mid-stage Alzheimer’s Mom her favorite brother succumbed to his physical and mental anguish and shot himself.”


Tie-breaker:  I vote No. 

·        It’s immoral to brutally hurt someone who can’t emotionally protect or defend herself.

·         Alzheimer’s patients frequently fixate on one thought or memory—usually the one you most want them to forget—and sometimes take days or weeks before they “let go” of the thought.

·        With painful memories, AD patients may suffer more and longer than those without the disease.

Better Option:   Mom processes what she hears and sees differently than we do.  A word that carries no meaning for you may cause her confusion and anxiety, so constant scrutiny is necessary. Surround Mom with support at the service using simple distraction techniques:


·      Don’t let Mom wander into the crowd alone.

·      Mom’s concentration and focus are impaired; she cannot multi-task, even for listening. Simple distractions can cover up conversations you don’t want her to hear and change her focus from dangerous conversation to you:


1.     Sneeze, look like you’re going to sneeze again and Mom will pay attention to you instead of another speaker.  Asking her for a tissue will keep her distracted longer.

2.     Get a headache and ask her to leave with you for a few minutes.

3.     Grab your leg, say “ouch, Mom, I’ve got a leg cramp, will you come out with me?”  She should immediately forget everything but helping you.

4.     Station one child on either side of Mom so you can talk to each other across her and distract her.

5.     Ask those who know Mom to not mention suicide in her presence.

6.     Follow Alzheimer’s Golden Rule: Do NOT worry about looking rude or disturbing others—just worry about Mom.


Trust Yourself. You Have the Knowledge, Insight, & Power to make the right decisions for you and your parent. ©

For more help communicating with Alzheimer’s patients, visit .


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