How do we tell mother that we think she has Alzheimer's?

18 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
Utmq asked...

My mother is exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer's. She refuses to recognize her forgetfulness, confusion always giving an excuse or explanation such as being tired or stressed. Her PC doctor has noticed and is referring her to a neurologist. What is the best way to 'break it to her' that she is going to be tested? I haven't told her yet; neither has the doctor. An added note: her sister, my aunt, passed away last March. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's nine years ago.

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Telling your mother she has memory loss will evoke a denial. Like most people, denial for your mother is a common response to many issues, and she is being no different in defending her belief that there is nothing wrong with her. In part this is due to fear, feelings of loss of control or may simply be the disease manifesting in that type of behavior.

Telling her that she is showing signs of memory loss will initially serve only to have her become even more defensive and adamant. That's not a battle you really want to fight.

If she in fact has dementia, a neurologist will be able to make that diagnosis after a thorough exam that may include an MRI of her brain. While this will probably not change your mother's defensive posture, it will make it easier for you to begin to learn techniques to deal with her early memory loss and help her accept her situation.

The doctor can help you and your mother by explaining that she has signs and symptoms of a disease that causes memory loss, and she may accept his explanation, thereby sparing you from having to tell her of her problem and create another confrontational situation.

As for having her accept being tested, one very good approach is to agree with her that she's probably correct, and there really isn't anything wrong, but just to put your mind at ease, you'd like her to prove that she's correct.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Let mom know that you'd feel better knowing you're wrong, and ask her if she'd be okay with just putting your mind at ease.

That may be a workable solution, or, you can solicit the help from your mother's primary physician who tells you mom that he's noticed something and wants to have it checked out "“ that ""¦it's probably nothing to worry about, but let's be sure." Then take your mother to the neurologist and await the outcome. If the results of the test are positive for dementia, mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer's disease, she will, over time begin to recognize that she's not as "sharp" as she once was, but in the meantime, you'll have to be there to step in and offer to help her with her checkbook and/or other tasks that she may begin to find more challenging. Be very aware of her driving skills as memory loss can create situations that produce some very bad and very sad outcomes.

You might consider reading some literature that discusses caregiving in situations of early memory loss. It will help you understand the process that your mother may be going through and will help you begin to deal with the challenges you'll face in the months and years ahead. One such book is "Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease" of which I am the author. The book is available on eBay or as a Kindle download at Amazon.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

What is important is for you to keep close tabs on your mother. As a caregiver of many Alzhiemers patients I think you need to make sure that she knows you are keeping her safe and reassured of your love. Many people do not admit thier condition until there is a crisis. For her to know may cause hours of anxiety for her. soyshirlee

Here 2 help services answered...

Pat was already so forgetful that we didn't tell her what she was being tested for until we got there. I am not sure the severity of your mother's forgetfulness. Maybe you could discuss the 10 signs with her and then explain that there are medicines to help improve her condition. I wrote an article about the 10 signs: good luck. I know it is a difficult thing to deal with.

Blacke answered...

this was very helpful will try this

Princessesmom answered...

my mil is in poor health and on many meds and trouble getting around. in february her doctors both pc and hospital decided she could no longer live alone. so we moved in to keep her out of the nursing home. since we are now living with her i've noticed she has severe short term memory loss . for example easter was christmas even though she was told several times it was easter not christmas coming up. i'm not sure with her health her doctor will even concider doing testing for either. they said they give her a year max to live if she kept on the same way she has been. i can't force feed her when she refuses for days not to eat or drink much( 1 or 2 small glasses a day).she gets meals on wheels but rarely eats would be nice to know if it is alzhiemers or dementia but at the same time she is 83 and not in good health at all so it may not be worth it in the end. i've seen both ends of both diseases and she is almost half way between the early stages and the late stages. but i lean more towards alzhiemers then dementia. my grandfather had dementia in the early 70's and died in 74 from complications of it and my grandmother on the other side is stage 4 i have seen both diseases up close and very personal. i'm stuck with the delema of needing to know how to deal with her and just let her live rest of her life not knowing and telling her she needs to eat because it's been days since she ate more then junk food or bread! what should i do? i am hoping she lives at least a few more years yet but with the doctors saying about 6 months maybe ( slim to no chance of finishing the year out) i'm tossed with a tough discussion and don't know at all which way to go. out of state family understands what & why we are here but the family that can and don't help out just think we are doing all this on our own making things harder for me & my husband.

Babs1950 answered...

I have the identical issue with my mom, even after several years, and it does get bumpy sometimes, for sure. While we had one harrowing afternoon, after a doctor's appointment, when I insisted she accept that she has some dementia (which she still does not), I would not recommend this kind of confrontation as the way to go. In fact, other than a very simple memory test her doctor gave her (which she failed stunningly, but didn't realize that she did) and a brain scan, she's had no major tests. Of course, we see the changes, even though she denies or minimizes them.

What I have done is basically to step up my presence in her life, and I am lucky to be able to do this. I stop by her house (she lives alone) a couple times a day for a short time, and spend several hours with her in the evening. We have also managed to take her car and checkbook, and I do all her shopping with her, supervising as unobtrusively as possible. Now, I realize that I will need someone to look in on her when I go out of town, the next major hurdle.

What I can say is that when something changes radically, like taking her car and checkbook away, she gets cranky for a short time, and then forgets about it and accepts the new reality. so good luck and God bless. Just go with the flow--no percentage in confrontation.

Happytodoit answered...

I struggled with this very thing for a while and ended up giving my mother this book, "Alzheimer's: The Answers You Need", saying I don't like the title, but it has good information, in simple terms. She said she was happy to have it because there are lots of people like that where she lives. Okay, I introduced the idea as gently as I could and beyond that, there is nothing I need to tell her that she doesn't know already. Plus, I think of the book as being like the booklet she gave me when I was eleven "You're a Young Lady Now". I was not ready to read it then but she left it in a spot where I could find in when I was ready. It is just the same. I think my need to tell Mom was more based on my anxiety about it. Once I figured that out and made peace with it I was able to leave her with her pride. That is important for my mother. Just as it would be for me or anyone. I wish you the best with this.

Simenas answered...


Jvoyageur answered...

I wish I had something helpful to add, but I don't. My mom is fighting me tooth and nail on whatever I do to help her. No matter how I frame it, she fights me. If she doesn't, I got lucky - it can be a hit and miss venture sometimes. She's been SO independent and doesn't want anyone in her affairs. It's so bad that she FOUGHT my court petition for conservatorship. We settled on mediation after a protected series of crying sessions. That was AFTER her diagnosis, and her finances getting screwed up.

Anyone else have some ideas?

What do i do? answered...

We're just getting started-We are going to check high blood pressure, why mom's not bathing, forgetfullness, hand tremors, getting stuck on one tiny detail as if it were a big issue, in a sudden fit of anger-it's always someone else's fault, someone stole from mom, ok, you stole it and now you put it back! hords everything, old, old food in the frige, fell and hit her head behind the ear on concrete several months ago and her legs "went numb for a little while, but I called to the neighbor across the street who came and helped me up" "Mom, did you see a Dr.?" "Well the bump's almost gone now, so I don't need to see one now. Does the dizziness ever go away? It goes away and comes back every now and then."...lives alone......Do we start at the Dr. office? Obtaining a POA? getting someone else on her checking acct? We don't have much at all, so we can't "sell everything" Read, Research, Pray, Act Anyone have any advise? Help! Anyone out there?

Emily m. answered...

Hi what do I do,

I'm so sorry to hear about your situation! I urge you to start at the doctors office and figure out what's causing her unusual behavior.

If you'd like, you can post your question in our Ask & Answer section located here

Also: here are two checklists that will be helpful for you to use down the road to organize legal and financial concerns.

I hope that helps get you started. Good luck with everything!

-- Emily

Thelma arceneaux nea answered...

I have lived with my mom for the last 16 years. My sisters and I noticed about 6 years ago that mom repeated her stories quite often. It got worse as time went by. We eventually had her doctor test her for Alzhimer's. He did a basic memory test and said she had the early signs of it. In the last two years she has been either forgeting to take her blood pressure medicines or taking two doses in one day. She only has to take her meds at supper time. Her doctor told me to take charge of her medicine so I did. She has had 2 bouts with dehydration due to not drinking fluids which resulted in kidney failure. (They did get her kidneys working again with two dialisis treatments). Now she doesn't know what day it is most of the time. Fortunately she gave up driving on her own. She is on Aricept an Cymbalta. What I need is suggestions on how to be in control of her meds without her lashing out that I'm controling her life. She denies memory loss and says I'm the one who doesn't remember. She will not take her medicine in front of me when I bring it to her. I have discoverd the she has taken to hoarding her medicine so she can have extra doses for when I have to go out of town. (I do have my sisters take charge of her when I do leave). My son says when she fuses with him, he says "Wait a minute, I have to check ....(whatever), you can tell me when I get back." He'll come back in a few minutes and the discussion is forgotten. Is it that simple?

Emily m. answered...

Hi Thelma, Thanks for your comment. If you like, you can post your own Ask & Answer question here: ( I hope that helps! -- Best, Emily | Community Manager

Robind answered...

Gently, with respect and love. Let her know you'll be there with her throughout the process and support her when she needs it.

It was the most terrible thing I had to do with my mother. And you'll go through stages of denial; then the anger will begin. Just remember the love she gave you when you needed it. Now it's your turn to be there for her.

If you have additional family, have a discussion on what steps to take and who will be there for her. Be more involved in her life and it's great to start a diary when you notice things; this will help the doctor and you, IF your mother does have Alzheimer's.

Keep in mind, she knows it's a possibility that she has the disease. That's the toughest part of all as they get really good at hiding any problems due to facing the fear that what they're thinking could be real.

Good luck; I wish you the best and keep us posted..

Sue c answered...

I have never mentioned the word Alzheimer's to my mother; I think it would make her sad and depressed at this stage. She is aware that she forgets and misplaces things so I refer to her ailment as memory loss. It sounds a little softer and less scarey and she accepts that. My family and I know it is Alzheimer's but she hasn't asked and I don't feel a need to worry her with the term/diagnosis. When we began noticing symptoms on a regular basis, I spoke with her about it in a loving way, giving her several recent examples of forgetfulness or misplacing things that she could relate to at that point. I told her I thought it would be a good idea to be tested just to make sure there was nothing more serious going on than normal aging forgetfulness. She agreed with this approach and was relieved to know the results were Mild Cognitive Impairment. I think she just believes its normal forgetfulness or at least she's never said anything. This approach works for us anyway.

Krin answered...

I told my mum that once you reach the age of 75 (use an age that helps you)the government wants you to undergo a complete health check. This is an assessment carried out in the home in Australia,but I took it further. I suggest that you don't tell them they have Alzheimer's. My mum's geriatrician told her and she freaked out. I quickly covered the mistake by saying that she didn't but we are putting her on medication to prevent it.

A fellow caregiver answered...

The truth is the disease is coming slowly to her, and daughter must accept that. From my experience and I may sound crude,no doctor, psychiatric, etc, will solve her problem but her daughter. Her love , patience, and follow medications faithfully. You need to get used to. Take her out to see people and treat her like any other normal human being. If she forgets words, places, family member names it does not matter, we all do that. As her problem increases you increase your patience, tolerance, and love. It is a terrible disease that nobody deserves. My wife was a super gifted person who created arts and design like nothing with a top job in a top company in NY; but all that is gone now. It is not her fault (sometimes I blamed God), so take it easy,and take care of her.It is only one life. When you get tired and upset walk away for a few minutes and recharge your values for her. As I said above , the disease is like cancer and the person becomes more dependent on you, and that is good if you love her. She knows your dedication. Many times I caught my wife when helping lifting her from he chair, she was looking into my eyes and my reactions. She knew if I was upset. I don't do that anymore, I just joke and be kind to the person. That what daughter has to go through and she will be happy Good Luck Joseph

Eglord answered...

I would leave this up to her physician as this is the best person to introduce this topic and diagnosis to her. The rest will unfold as it should. That is what I did with my husband and it simplified the entire introduction of this condition. Hope this helps and good luck.