Does my friend have Alzheimer's?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 31, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My friend (70) called a mutual friend to ask where the library was. When she was told it was on a certain street she said she didn't know where the street was. This lady lived within a half mile of this street for 30 years and has gone to the library many, many times. Her doctor told her several months ago not to worry, she did not have Alzheimer's. With this recent episode I am not so sure.

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.

One questionable incident doesn't diagnose Alzheimer's. But as her friend, your concern is justified. Why would her doctor reassure her? Did she or her family raise questions earlier? Was she tested? No single test at one point in time can reliably diagnose Alzheimer's disease. However, the change in her you just noticed is key. If she can't remember familiar, well-practiced routes or expresses concern about losing her way or not recognizing streets, she is scared and may welcome your support. Likely, other friends or her family have noticed changes in her behavior, mood or memory. If so, it is worth approaching her with your concern, not with a facile diagnosis. You want to learn more about what's bothering her about her daily functioning, memory, and mood and offer her help in finding answers. Early diagnosis could save her embarrassment, frustration, and real safety risks. It's worth pursuing with your mutual friend's support. Friends help friends get answers in time to make a difference.