Have you noticed your mother’s memory declining? Do you question your husband’s judgment in areas that he has always been very competent in until recently? Has your sister been behaving strangely lately and falsely accusing you of taking her money?
If you’re in that uncomfortable place where you suspect your relative may have Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to know what to do. It’s a touchy subject to raise, and one that requires careful thought before doing so. Start by considering these four suggestions:
- Review the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Note especially if the changes you’re seeing are more sudden, which may indicate a delirium or other physical problem that may be reversed with treatment. It’s critical that a physician evaluate your loved one as soon as possible in this situation.
If the symptoms have been developing more gradually over time, it is more likely that they’re related to a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Talk with a Couple of Other Close Family Members or Friends
Check in with others who know your loved one to see if they’ve noticed any changes. Do this in a respectful, confidential manner to avoid unnecessary hurt or embarrassment. When Alzheimer’s strikes, although many people become quite skilled at covering their memory lapses, they find it difficult to maintain that around those who know them well. It’s often helpful to verify if others have made similar observations; they may have been questioning the same thing and not known whether to raise the concern or ignore it.
To clarify, your objective here is not to spread a rumor or gossip, but rather to collaborate with those closest to your loved one.
- Ask Your Loved One How She Feels Her Memory Is Working
Some people are aware and worried about their memory. They may have noticed some lapses and might be relieved to talk about it. Others, of course, may become angry, defensive and deny all concerns. Knowing your loved one as you do, you can consider if a direct and gentle approach would be effective or not.
When you talk with her, be sure to choose a good time of day for your family member, and use "I statements", such as "I'm a little worried about you, Mom. I'm wondering how you're doing. I thought I noticed you having a harder time lately with your memory and wondered if you've noticed the same thing." This approach can decrease someone's defensiveness and is generally more effective than a statement like this: "You seem like you're having trouble with your memory."
You also might want to avoid using the "Alzheimer's" word for now since it's not known if your loved one has this diagnosis or not. Consider instead using words like "memory problems".
- Persuade Him to Go to the Doctor
Your loved one needs an assessment by a physician. Sometimes, other health conditions might be causing problems with cognition, such as normal pressure hydrocephalus or vitamin B12 deficiency. Thyroid problems or medication interactions can also affect memory and judgment. An evaluation and diagnosis is important so that proper treatment can be provided.
You may find that your loved one is resistive to going to the doctor. If this is the case, you can explain that it's time for an annual check-up.
If you're not able to get your husband to agree to go the doctor, you could talk to your physician's office ahead of time about your concerns and ask them to call your family member to schedule a doctor's visit. Also, in some families, there's one person who seems to be able to be more persuasive than the others; if so, don't hesitate to ask that person for assistance so that your loved one can get the assessment and care that he needs.
Alzheimer's Association. Telling Others About an Alzheimer Diagnosis. Accessed July 15, 2012. www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_telldiagnosis.pdf
Alzheimer's Society Ontario. Common Questions. Accessed September 27, 2012. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/Alzheimer-s-disease/What-is-Alzheimer-s-disease/Common-Questions
National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Aging.Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help. Accessed September 27, 2012. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/forgetfulness-knowing-when-ask-help