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

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 Answer

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.

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.