How can I get my mother to go for another Alzheimer's evaluation?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 26, 2016
Nwood asked...

I took my mother in for an Alzheimer's evaluation over three years ago. At that time, the neurologist found nothing wrong. Now, my family is saying our mother is doing the same things again, and they want me to take her in again. The problem is getting her to go. She went the first time to prove to everyone that nothing was wrong, and she proved that. Now, I feel she will not go a second time. She has said she won't. How do you "force" someone to get another test? Help me, please.

Expert Answers

Lisa P. Gwyther, a social worker specializing in Alzheimer's services, is the author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan. An associate professor in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, she's also a past president of the Gerontological Society of America.

Your mother's clearest perception of herself, reinforced by the neurologist who found nothing wrong, is that of a functioning and competent adult. Alzheimer's evaluations produce memorable anxiety, and it is completely understandable that she refuses to repeat testing. Few people with significant changes in memory and thinking cavalierly agree to an evaluation. She probably doesn't understand that signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's develop subtly over years. There is no on/off switch. At this point, it's not about "forcing" another test, but more about knowing her well enough, as she is now, to get her to "yes."

First, make an appointment in advance with the same neurologist at a time you or a close family member can accompany her. Then make an off-handed suggestion to your mother about hopeful new approaches to early prevention or treatment of age-related memory problems. Some educated older people are persuaded by recent media features about healthy brain aging - for example, lifestyle approaches like exercise make a difference in overall function and memory.

Don't focus on her deficits, but rather on her retained skills and strengths and what can be gained by early treatment. Make it your issue rather than hers - you would rest easier knowing that she has the most up-to-date information about how to retain her memory, function and quality of life. You want to support her best care for herself.

Perhaps she has persistent health complaints about related issues - low energy, fatigue, just not feeling like herself? Then suggest an evaluation with the doctor who saw her when she was functioning so well.

If she currently trusts a relative, friend, her attorney or clergy person as someone who has all the right answers, ask this person to casually support your idea. Avoid ganging up on her or pushing her into a corner. Be casual, open-minded, but not too invested or persistent. If she reacts negatively, drop it and try again. If she still refuses, just tell her it's so hard to get an appointment with this doctor, that you scheduled an appointment far in advance just in case. If she reacts with anger, just say "I'm sorry - I mean well." Suggest you go with her and then go out to lunch or to some activity she really enjoys.

The Alzheimer's Action Plan has many bulleted suggestions about how to prepare for the evaluation and how to get the most out of your time with the doctor or evaluation team. You'll be surprised by the number of successful but quite different approaches families use to insure timely evaluation of changes in memory and thinking.

Community Answers

Barbara mcvicker answered...

I am Barbara McVicker author of "Stuck in the Middle...shared stories and tips for caregiving your elderly parents". Lisa's answer is so kind and appropriate. My audiences across the country are quick to force their elderly parents to do things. I think that is because we are are STUCK in the MIDDLE of kids, career, and aging parents. Boomers are task driven,efficient, and practical,and thus cannot understand why are parents are not cooperating with our very logical requests. Let's hope we are compliant as we age! Sure??

Bjim0625 answered...

My name is Berta and my mom was stricken with Dementia in her mid 50's. When we first noticed she was repeating herself and doing very odd things like misplacing things or forgetting what she was doing, we would keep a daily log of her actions and take pictures of where she would place things. When she was at her norm we would show her, until she realized she needed to be seen. It was hard at first because she didn't want to believe something was wrong but my dad and I had alot of love and will and determination to try and slow this process down. In the end we knew we did the best we could for mom. So don't be afraid just let her know you are on her side and lets prove everyone wrong again and just be safe. She'll appreciate that more.

Amusinsusan answered...

I don't know all of your mother's symptoms so all I can do is tell you my experiences and maybe you'll recognize something.

Nine years ago I went to a famous midwest clinic to see what was causing my memory problems. Most of the trouble I was having were short term memory (repeating things I had said, losing things, checking and rechecking paper work then setting it down and forgetting where I put it, etc.. I was 47 year old and my biggest fear was Alzheimers.

I went through 10 days of testing by some of the country's best doctors in one of our top facilities. My doctors concluded that I did not have Alzheimers. My memory problems were caused by depression.

I told the doctors that I didn't feel depressed, but they said that I didn't have to in order to have the symptoms of depression. I had a lifetime history of depression from my father dieing when I was very young, and growing up with a very dysfunctional family. I also have fibromyalgia and memory problems are a symptom of that as well.

I also saw my mother lose her memory when she was dieing of cancer. I was afraid that the cancer had spread to her brain, but her doctor said that depression, from having cancer, was causing her memory problems.

Has your mother been tested for depression?

Another thought is that my 19 year old sister-in-law stayed with us for a few weeks, quite a few years ago. She was doing all sorts of strange things: taking off in our car without asking and parking our car very crooked, in the bushes, when she got back home. She also started a few fires from extremely careless smoking, forgetting things, etc.

My husband had to go on a business trip for a couple of days. When he returned I told him that I knew something was terribly wrong with his sister, but I didn't know what it was.

He asked his sister to go somewhere with him, and I went in and searched her room. What I found in there shocked me. All along the side of her bed, between her bed and the wall, was stuffed with empty beer cans. There were glasses filled with straight liquor on her dresser. Two grocery bags were filled with empty beer cans and another bag was filled with bottles of liquor. A dresser drawer was also filled with liquor. Nineteen years old and my SIL was a later stage, yet very clever alcoholic.

Could your mom have a problem with drinking or prescription drugs? Believe me, we never dreamed that my sister-in-law could. She was so young and very sweet. I loved her like she was my own little sister.

Alcoholics can be very functional and very good about hiding their drinking. She was livid with us for discovering her secret and ended her relationship with us.

At the time she was a full time student in a famous university. She got married, had four children and a very respectable job in the medical field.

Today she has none of these things. Her husband divorced her and got full custody of their children and she lost her job because of her drinking. To be honest with you, I don't even know if she's alive. The last few times I talked to her (about 15 years ago) it was like stepping into the Twilight Zone; nothing but lies and manipulation.

If I'm way off on this thought then I apologize. I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that there could be many other conditions that would cause your mom's memory problems and strange behavior. I wish you luck, dear, on finding out what the problem is. Your mom is so lucky to have you.