How can we tell if my father in law has Alzheimer's or if he's just lonely?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Toadyrj asked...

My Father in law,(Bob) Lost is wife and son back in July do to a car accident. He lives in Prineville, OR. and we live in Gresham OR. It's about 3 Hr. drive. How can we tell if Bob is in the 1st. Stages of Alzheimer's, Dementia , or just lonely. He is seeing people in is house. Forget things, Like his brothers name. How can we get him to go see a doctor? If he needs to go. He said he would not go. Bob is 80 living alone. My husband at 1st said he was kidding but now he says dad is losing it fast.What should we do?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Telling the difference between Alzheimer's (AD) and loneliness can be a tough task for families. It does seem like a guessing game especially if his behavior varies from day to day. Although signs of depression can certainly mimic some of the hallmarks of AD, there are major differences. Primarily, if Bob is lonely and is feeling depressed, appropriate medication can be offered to help him get through the difficult time and to help change his forgetfulness and 'hallucinations' while making him more easily able to adjust to life alone. On the other hand, there is no drug that can make an AD person better, although once the diagnosis of AD is confirmed, there are medications that may help improve some of the symptoms. If your father-in-law remains reluctant to see a physician and/or to have a good workup, I would encourage you to be in contact with the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in OR (503-945-5921) or the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) to find a professional to come to Bob's home while you are with him. Introduce the person as 'a friend' of yours to allay any fear or suspicion that Bob may have of someone he does not recognize. Many AAAs have people trained specifically to assess the elder person living alone who is having signs of dementia or a dementing process such as Alzheimer's and to help guide family members in what should happen next. This website,, has a wonderful pamphlet titled "Is It Alzheimer's?" which can help you check off the symptoms he may or may not have.
The sooner you find out why Bob is 'losing it fast', the quicker you can find solutions to dealing with whatever is causing the loss. I'm sure it is devastating to you and your husband and particularly for Bob himself. Do take care of you.