Respectful Strategies for Getting A Person to A Dementia Screening

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By Valerie FeurichAugust 15th, 2019

Respectful Strategies for Getting A Person to A Dementia Screening

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by Valerie Feurich
PAC Product Marketing and Technology Lead


Have you noticed changes in a close friend or family member? Do you worry that some of these changes might be related to dementia? Getting a proper diagnosis is important when you suspect a loved one might be living with dementia, but what do you do if the person is refusing to visit a physician?

The reasons for refusal differ from person to person, but it is common for people to not notice that they have changed. Yet others might have noticed something going on with themselves, but would rather not want to know that “there’s something wrong with them,” or possibly don’t see why they should bother getting checked.

As a worried friend or family member, this situation can lead to anxiety and frustration, and possibly cause conflict with the person you’re concerned about. While there is no easy answer, there are a few different strategies you might want to try:

  1. Be Curious and Validate the Person’s Point of View

Instead of confronting the person head-on with your observations, which can come across like an attack and cause the person to become defensive, try a more curiosity-based approach instead. As an example, you could try starting the conversation like this:

“Hey, Judy, I’m curious about something. I know you’ve been feeling really fine. But I’ve been noticing a few things and I wonder whether you’ve noticed any of this or not?”

By verifying and validating the person’s opinion first (“…I know you’ve been feeling fine…”) before you bring up your concern, you’re setting the stage for a less confrontational conversation. Additionally, by asking the person for their opinion after saying what you’ve noticed (“…and I wonder whether you’ve noticed any of this or not?”), you’re showing the person that you respect their opinion while also encouraging them to take a look at themselves and giving the opportunity to speak openly.

  1. Don’t Blame or Judge

While this isn’t an easy conversation, it is important to have this talk before a crisis hits. When things go wrong and you’re stressed, you’re much more likely to come across as if you’re judging or attacking the person. Avoid beginning conversations with statements like:

“This is the third time I found the wrong pills in your bottle” or “You let someone in the house without even knowing their name?”

Beginning a conversation by pointing out flaws isn’t going to end well, so make sure you are in a calm state of mind before approaching this difficult topic.

  1. Bring in an Authority Figure 

Try to think of someone who has always been an authority figure to the person you’re concerned about, and see if they might be able to assist. This could be someone from the person’s faith community, or maybe someone who has provided legal or financial advice previously. 

If the person is opposed to going to a dementia screening, but might be open to going to a regular annual exam, if they were contacted by their doctor’s office, you might consider contacting the physician’s office and asking them to take the initiative and call your person to schedule the appointment.

In this scenario, you have the opportunity to mention to the doctor beforehand that you’re having concerns, so the physician can observe accordingly during the appointment and make a recommendation to the person directly. Important: Make sure to ask the physician’s office to keep your previous conversation private, so as to not cause conflict between you and the person you’re concerned about.

  1. Become Their Advocate and Start with Something Fixable

If you’re in a situation where there isn’t anyone else to bring in, you might have success by becoming the person’s advocate. Try to think of a situation where one of the changes you’re concerned about might have caused an uncomfortable situation.

As an example, if the person is beginning to suffer from hearing loss, you could start the conversation like this:

You: “That clerk yesterday at the bank was really rude. Did that just seem like that to me, or did you think so too?”
Person: “Yes, she was rude.”
You: “Is it just me, or does it seem people have become a bit ruder these last months?”
Person: “It seems like they have. I’m not sure why though.”
You: “Hmm… I wonder, have you noticed, maybe, if it could have anything to do with how well you’re hearing? It seems sometimes you’re having trouble hearing what other people are saying. I wonder if it’s something worth getting looked at, as it makes it so unpleasant to deal with people that seem just rude.”

Try starting with an experience you both shared, and see if you can evoke that same emotion again. If you can connect this experience to something fixable that might be going on, the person might be more inclined to get a checkup. 

  1. Pick a Bad Guy

If none of the previous strategies work, you might have no other choice but to pick one of you to be the bad guy. Ask yourselves:

  • Who of you is best prepared to emotionally handle the Bad Guy role? (You want this person to have some sense of authority)
  • Who would be best at it?
  • Who could be the Good Guy, the one who can partner with the person and assist them?

Once you figured out your roles, the bad guy might start the conversation with a statement like “You’re behaving differently than you were before” or “If we don’t do anything, you’ll end up in the emergency room.”

A few things to note:

  • The bad guy role doesn’t equate with being a mean guy, so it is important to remain respectful. Be careful to not let your agenda take over entirely.
  • During the conversation, still try to give the person some choices. This could be a simple question like “Would you prefer I schedule the appointment for Tuesday or Thursday?” By giving the person choices, you’re allowing them to retain a sense of control over the situation.
  • Try to tie in something emotional, or something of importance to the person: “So you’re telling me you would rather die and lose the next five years you could be spending with your dog, than to go see the doctor to get your blood pressure checked?” Not only are you connecting something or someone that emotionally matters to that person, but you’re also showing them how extreme their standpoint really is (dying five years earlier for not wanting a simple procedure like a blood pressure check).

The Bottom Line:

The more you know the person you’re concerned about, the better you can help. If you know the person’s buttons, the things that matter to them and help them want to be present and healthy for as long as possible, you’re much more likely to succeed. Try to help them see why and how getting a screening can positively impact their life, and the lives of those closest to their heart.

Originally from Germany, Valerie Feurich, earned her B.A. with a major in Professional & Technical Writing and a minor in Psychology from the University of South Florida in 2010. After working as a freelance Web and Graphic Designer and Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Consultant for a year, she joined not-for-profit organization Pines of Sarasota to help their Education Institute develop and execute a marketing plan for a DVD they had filmed in partnership with Teepa Snow. Over the next eight years, Valerie built an international e-commerce and marketing structure for the Pines and Teepa Snow programs, which increased to a library of 26 programs over time. In January 2019 Valerie joined Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care team as the Product Marketing and Technology Lead, and now leads marketing efforts for numerous PAC products and services.


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