Starting a Conversation About Diagnosis - DementiaHub.SG

Starting a Conversation About Diagnosis

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If you suspect your loved one is displaying the signs and symptoms of dementia, you should encourage him or her to get properly diagnosed and treated. However, starting a conversation with someone on this sensitive issue may not be easy.

This article will first provide a short guide to how to start a conversation with a person living with dementia about getting a diagnosis, and then detail some guiding points about how to navigate these conversations.

A Short Guide to Starting a Conversation About Getting a Diagnosis

To encourage someone to talk when you’re worried about how their memory loss has affected them, you can:

1. Have the conversation in a familiar and relaxing place.
2. Cite examples of their behaviour to initiate awareness.
3. Have a frank conversation to discuss their needs and issues.

You do not need to get the person to agree to visit a doctor for a diagnosis in just one session. This is a difficult development to process, so it may take some time for the person to accept it.

Here are some questions that you may use to start the conversation:

• You seem worried; how can I help?
• You don’t seem yourself today, how are you feeling?
• Are you ok? You seem to be concerned about something.

Being diagnosed with dementia may come as a surprise to someone at first. However, with a clear diagnosis, persons living with dementia can get the information, treatment, management, and support needed to manage the symptoms.

Depending on the person’s comfort level, sharing concerns with family members early in the conversation can:

• Coax the person to obtain a diagnosis and seek support.
• Prepare family members early for the caregiving role.
• Help both the person and caregiver(s) to plan for the future.

The First Hurdle

Our first reactions upon receiving bad news are often to feel worried or helpless, or to lapse into denial. The mild and progressive nature of dementia also makes it convenient for people to brush off the symptoms as either a natural byproduct of ageing or a minor inconvenience. Any talk of it being a sign of something ominous or as a possible symptom of dementia is dismissed or explained away. Frequently misplacing things around the house may spark the response “I’m so forgetful”, and an older person’s mood swings may appear to some as them simply being unreasonable or seeking attention.

Rather than wait for a ‘defining incident’ to give dementia significance, put the truth gently to them. Cease making excuses for them and trivialising the signs. Without pointing out all the signs and symptoms you observe, try to help them connect the dots. With the intention to guide them towards early detection and diagnosis, subtly provide information on the symptoms of dementia that may gradually reveal to them what they might be trying to deny.

Seize The Opportunity

Often, the person’s reluctance to see a doctor is a result of fear, denial, or a desire to hold on to their decision-making abilities for as long as they are able to do so. Acknowledge their emotions and fears. Give them the room to embrace their true emotions but make use of opportunities to bring them to the doctor. For example, if they have been expressing concerns about cognitive symptoms or other health symptoms they acknowledge, you could take these opportunities to encourage them to go for a doctor’s consultation where dementia-related symptoms could be raised.

Reframe Your Approach

Knowing the barriers holding your loved one back from getting an early diagnosis is not sufficient. Ease their concerns by exploring these barriers with them and try to empathise with their emotions while providing reassurance. Share that seeing a doctor is the best course forward for them.

Instead of repeatedly emphasising the importance of early diagnosis, try asking them for a favour. Sometimes, loved ones will do something for others that they would not do for themselves. Making a doctor’s appointment a favour they can do for you may prove to be a good strategy. Reframing the purpose of the visit will help to provide clarity and make things less intimidating for your loved ones with dementia.

According to Diana Kerwin, MD, chief of geriatrics at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the director of Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders, it helps for family members of persons who may have dementia to treat a doctor’s appointment as another preventive medicine visit like a colonoscopy or bone density testing. This appointment could also be described as a brain check-up.2

No one wants to see a loved one diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. But the sooner they get it checked, the earlier care and support can be rendered. On the flip side, it can be even more comforting should the check-up show nothing out of order. What is certain is that one never loses out by getting themselves checked – and it all begins with a trip to the doctor.

If you are experiencing difficulty getting your loved one, who is suspected of dementia, to get a diagnosis, watch Dr Joshua Kua’s advice on how to encourage him/her to seek help:

Source: Agency for Integrated Care


  1. Agency for Integrated Care. (n.d.). Living with Dementia, A Resource Kit for Caregivers, Knowing Dementia.
  2. Johnson, L. (April 18, 2019). Dementia Care: Navigating a Doctor’s Visit with Your Loved One. Retrieved May 4, 2021, from
  3. Dementia Singapore. (2017, October 24). Dealing with Dementia: The First Step.
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