How can I convince my mother to see a doctor, when she thinks her memory loss is due to grief?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

For the past several years, I have mentioned to my mother the fact that she has had problems with recalling/remembering information. At that time, my father had health issues and he would tell me he thinks it the stress from all his dr. appts. and such. But I knew it was more than that. She would be talking to me on the phone (we live in seperate states) and when she couldn't recall what she wanted to say, she would ask my dad and he would "fill in the blanks" so to speak. Since my dad recently passed away, I want to have my mother tested to see if dementia is in play here or worse. I know she will come up with excuses that its all so hard since dad passed away but as i said, this has been happening even before his death. My question is how can I convince her she needs to do this?? I need to know whats really going on with her for my own well-being.

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Your mother is likely overwhelmed by your father's passing, which is further aggravated by the apprehension of being left alone. She's lucky that you're there for her.

The trauma of losing a spouse can immediately send a person into a sharp mental decline and it's perfectly understandable that you want an official confirmation of your suspicions of your mother's memory-impairment, but it may not be what your mother needs right now. She's trying to cope and she needs you to be her strongest ally. You can do this by acknowledging her fears and offer your support. At this point in her grief, hearing anything about her memory loss or doctors will only make her grief worse and may alienate the two of you. In the meantime, it's important for you not talk to her about memory problems at all.

Instead try this: Plan an extended visit with her during which you will go with her pace (a lot slower than yours.) Start by pampering her; depending on her personality you can take her to a spa for the "works" "“ or a beauty-parlor for a makeover of everything from hair and nails to make-up. Take her out on an elegant lunch-date and shop for a new outfit. "“ all of this spread out over a few days. All of this can lead up to a doctor's visit very naturally as long as you treat it as a normal extension of getting started on her new life alone. No doom and gloom in your voice or attitude. Locate a geriatric specialist, either a psychiatrist, gerontologist or neurologist. These doctors are accustomed to dealing with reluctant patients. Go to the appointment as a natural follow-up to your elegant lunch. This transition is important. It's natural for you to be anxious about the doctor's visit, but try to adopt the same attitude and demeanor you had driving to the spa and the beauty treatments. Avoid any mention of dementia on the way to the doctor. Instead talk about something funny or heart warming. When you arrive and she asks again why you're there, you might be safe telling her that now that all the rest of her has been spruced up head to toe, you want to make sure that her health is okay as well. Do not mention anything about memory. Let the doctor handle everything.

Spa, makeover, luxurious lunch, and physical "“ IN THAT ORDER.

In between you can strengthen your bonds with your mother with girl-talk on upbeat happy subjects. Tell her anecdotes of happy and fun events in your shared history but try not to ask her direct questions that would challenge her memory. Avoid: "Do you remember . . . ?" Instead you can simply say, "I remember . . ." Your stories may bring back memories for her, but if they don't you're giving her these happy experiences all over again. Think of events that will reiterate your deep love for her. Through your narration you can convey your feelings to her in a way that's much more meaningful than a simple "I love you" can't.