How do I make my Mother go see a doctor when she flatly refuses?

Lost and afraid asked...

My Mom lives in a in senior housing apartment and is losing keys, not bathing and shows all the signs of dementia. She refuses to go to any doctor or to take any medication. She has a very strong will, She is depressed and now cries a lot, She will drink beer at night alone. The other residents are constantly saying things she has done. Checking the mail over and over, etc. I now have been told by the Manager that she has to have a doctors statement for her to stay there. I have no idea how to handle this. She has given no power to anyone. Please help!

Expert Answer

For 20 years, physical therapist Connie Lambert has worked with individuals and families with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. As founder and CEO of Our Generations, LLC, she provides specialized dementia and behavioral management training for corporations, facilities, and groups.

Your mother's ability to care for herself appears seriously impaired. Loving your mother at this phase in her life means doing what is best for her, regardless of what she may think or say. This requires uncommon courage. To deal with your immediate problem I suggest:

  • Ask the apartment manager to put in writing the requirement that your mother have a physician's statement approving her ability to live alone.
  • Make a "list" of the actions and behaviors that concern you, highlighting those that could cause harm to your mother or others.
  • Prepare in advance. Find a physician you trust, set up an appointment for your mother and inform him/her prior to the appointment of your concerns. Share the "list".
  • If you have siblings, spouse or a trusted friend enlist their help with talking with your mother and make certain they support your agenda. Practice what you will say. Don't wing it. Don't let emotion take over.
  • Remember, paranoia is a common symptom of dementia and may strongly affect your mother's reaction.
  • One or two days before the doctor appointment, talk to your mother. Choose her calmest time of day. Show her the letter from the apartment management. Explain to her your concerns. (Don't show her the "list".) Tell her you love her and want her to be able to continue to be independent. To do so she must go to the doctor. Tell her if she refuses she has move and cannot live alone. Those are the rules. There are no other options.
  • Be prepared for her anger, refusal, recriminations and more. Stand strong and tell her you are on her side and will pick her up at the designated time to take her to the appointment.
  • Make certain you go into the appointment with her and talk with the physician together.

All of that being said, your mother's symptoms are significant and it is likely she will not be able to remain alone for very long, so be prepared. Also, if she is prescribed medication and allowed to live alone her alcohol consumption will need to be monitored. I wish you the very best in this very difficult time.

Connie Lambert, PT, CCM, PhD