I have a close friend who is genetically predisposed to early-onset dementia. My friend is relatively young (mid-30s), but has been having concerning unexplained behavioral shifts, such as:
- Forgetting basic things mid-conversation. (We'll be talking about something, and then my friend will seconds later say, "hey have you heard about...", and say something pretty much what we were just saying.)
- Becoming inexplicably verbally aggressive with family and friends to the point that many of their relationships have suffered a great deal of damage.
- Other signs of confusion, along with stress and extreme defensiveness.
Others also care a great deal for this person, and have also witnessed these behaviors. I am not a doctor and therefore cannot assume I know this has anything to do with my friend's potential future dementia, but whatever the cause, their behavior is causing them damage in their life, and I'm not sure they recognize it. I want to help by suggesting they see their doctor.
How can I raise the issue in a supportive/caring/loving way?
In the last couple years, my friend has started responding to fear and criticism by lashing out and becoming aggressive, followed by anything they can do to justify their previous thought or action. The reason for fear doesn't have to be legitimate, and the criticism need not be strong or even intended at all. It's all in how my friend perceives it. This has been observed by others as well, no matter how they approach this person, and no matter the topic. Stress and the pandemic have exacerbated the issue in recent months. (Although, this problem started to exist before the pandemic as well.)
I have no doubt that if I were to even mention the observed behavior, that my friend would become aggressive. I suspect if I were to suggest seeing a doctor about it, my friend would be extremely offended. At the best case, I think my friend would become terrified and perhaps overreact before talking to a doctor and getting some facts.
I considered discussing this with other friends/family of this person, but feel that my friend would feel betrayed.
How can I approach this, with the goals of:
- Showing support for the friend, no matter what they do, even if they choose to not seek medical help
- Encouraging the friend to seek medical help in a way and pace they deem appropriate (i.e., I don't want to dictate specifically what my friend does, I just want to provide feedback from the outside perspective and suggest that they do something to address it.)
- Reducing the chance of damaging the relationship if my friend takes offense to my suggestion