My mother is becoming increasingly forgetful but won't got to the doctor, what should I do?

Susabarr asked...

My mother is 88 and she forgets certain things, like where she puts things, and a few times her food in the microwave. She also makes up stories. She refuses a home attendant, and does not want to go to a doctor for a check up, when we try to tell her she should go for a check up, or have a home attendant, she gets very upset and says she can take care of herself, and she does not feel sick, so she does not have to go to a doctor. Is this normal, and how should we handle this?

Expert Answer

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 mom is perfectly normal. Her resistance is pretty much the norm. Few of us would be ready to admit that we're experiencing cognitive decline and are no longer capable of taking care of ourselves. In this situation it will help you to try to "walk in your mother's shoes." She does not want to surrender to this condition and everything you're suggesting confirms her fears. When you tell her that she should have an attendant and that she ought to see a doctor, you're making decisions for her, which may feel like an intrusion to her. Instead, think of yourself as her "partner". Ask her opinion and listen to her suggestions while you brainstorm on compromises, like bringing in someone to do light housework, rather than being a full time companion. The latter means she's incapable, whereas the former means she's still in charge. "“ And try to follow her lead and respect her tolerance level. If these brainstorming sessions appear stressful to her, take a break and share something pleasurable with her.

Your primary task is to keep her environment safe. Discreetly make changes to her environment where you need to for her physical safety. If you need to make major changes, do it out of her sight. No matter how much she may eventually agree with you in theory, to watch her place "taken" apart can be devastating.

It would be reassuring for you to have her see a doctor, but if it's only to confirm her dementia, it's not crucial; nothing will change very drastically in the next several months. It's situation where you'll have to pick your battles.