How do you convince your loved one with memory loss to see a doctor?

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Lately I have been taking several Helpline calls from people who have the same problem: “I am concerned about memory lapses and confusion I’m seeing in a loved one. How do I get him/her to agree to go and see their doctor?” A very good question. First of all, anyone who is aware they are slipping cognitively must be afraid that this could be Alzheimer’s disease so they could easily turn to complete denial. But Alzheimer’s isn’t the only cause of memory loss and confusion.

I suggest that the concerned person talk with the individual exhibiting memory about the possibility of causes for these symptoms that are NOT related to Alzheimer’s. For example, perhaps there is a vitamin B-12 deficiency, or a urinary tract infection. Maybe their combination of medications needs to be re-evaluated by their doctor. If there is a simple cause for their apparent memory trouble or confusion, it is best to find out and seek appropriate treatment.

Does the person exhibiting signs of memory loss and confusion have a close friend he or she has known for years, plays cards with, goes out to lunch with? Could you discuss your concerns with one of those friends and see if they have noticed similar behaviors? Often we listen to life-long friends more than our children. If there are shared stories of misplacing items or confusing people’s names, etc. you could ask the person sharing your concerns to talk with your loved one, with or without you. In that conversation you could address your love and wish for the well-being of this person. You might suggest that it would give everyone who loves them peace of mind for them to visit their doctor and clear up your worries.

If the person is still reluctant to go to their doctor, you could write down concerns and observations (maybe use the Preparing for a Visit to the Doctor form on our website) and mail it to their physician. The doctor cannot talk with anyone outside of their patient without the patient’s permission, but they may read your letter with concerns. You could suggest they call that person for an appointment based on something else in their medical history, say to check their cholesterol, check for possible skin cancer or take their blood pressure. A doctor may or may not follow through, but it is worth a try.

Sometimes none of this works and may even cause anger from the person you are trying to help. Keep in mind that often, the person’s reluctance to see a doctor is a result of fear, denial, or maybe just wanting to hang on to making their own decisions for as long as he or she is able to do so. Occasionally it takes a serious incident before a doctor gets involved – maybe a fall, a trip to the ER, or a wandering occurrence. While unfortunate, it may happen.

If you are dealing with this issue, I hope you know the Alzheimer’s Association is here to help with support and suggestions any time for this and any other issues related to the Alzheimer journey, 24/7 at 1.800.272.3900.

And if you’ve successfully encouraged a loved-one to visit the doctor after they were initially reluctant, please comment below to share your success story!

13 Responses

  1. It’s always a difficult time when you have to convince someone to go to see the doctor, but when someone suffers from memory loss, then it makes it just that bit more difficult.

    Thanks for the insight into this topic.

  2. On another note, it’s easier to get a couple of people with you, close friends of your loved one, even very close family members.

    I hope this helps.

  3. Mike says:

    Hi – my mom is 71. I understand that she is getting older but her mother, who just died at close to 100 year old, had a sharper memory than my mom does.

    She forgets things she used to remember. When I point out how bad her memory has become she covers for it, makes excuses as to why she didn’t remember something, or quickly making a joke or changing the subject to deflect attention away. She even became confused on the way back from a doctors appointment, not understanding where we were. She has made that trip at lease several dozen times.

    So I have noticed this for many years now and she continues to deny it….and attack me by saying it’s my memory that it bad.

    She has a doctor who she has a good relationship with and now says she would feel like an idiot if she went in and asked for memory tests.

    She also,had brain surgery a few years ago for a minor non malignant tumor. It was removed. And a routine yearly MRI this past summer says it’s fine. She doesn’t understand that an MRI does not show memory loss.

    The problem is my father is handicapped. He had a brain injury when hit by a drunk driver. I’m in my early 40s. I can’t imagine having to take care of two parents.

    I know nothing can be done about dementia and Alzheimer’s. But there are other benign causes of memory loss that should be investigated. Yet because she feels such a stupid level of kinship with her doctor, she won’t go.

    She dug her heals in one other time when she would get so out of breath that she couldn’t breath walking far in the mall. She wouldn’t goto the doctor until I became furious with her. Not she makes it sound like it was her own ideas which makes me wonder if this is her forgetting also.

    I don’t know what to do. I’m about to write my family off and let them live the irresponsible way they want to.

    I’m very upset and frustrated.

    • Shiru says:

      Hello Mike. I’m sorry to read this. How is your mum doing now? I hope you made progress over the last year. Sometimes I feel the same way about writing my family off.

    • David says:

      Speak to her doctor yourself without her. Express your concerns and why she won’t talk to him about them. Ask him to note them in his file to discuss for her next physical or the next time she is in (follow up with doctor if you have to…don’t trust the message will be remembered). The doctor’s office might give her a call and suggest a physical if she hasn’t had one recently given that she is a senior. At that time the doctor could administer some of the memory tests stating that it’s routine to do so with seniors periodically. Alternatively, book a physical (medical) for her with her doctor’s office. Inform her that they called wanting to arrange an appointment. Go with her to the appointment and go in with her to see the doctor. She is probably telling the doctor she is just fine and has no problems. She may also not recall whatever he may tell her of importance. As for your mother denying things, she may be well aware that she has this memory loss and is quite fearful of what will become of her life with such a diagnosis. As humans sometimes it is easier for us or so we think, to not know. I would not give up on your parents. I am sure she was not like this in her early forties either. You might be the same in thirty years. Getting old is difficult remember. If she has cognitive issues, her judgement will also be impaired. It’s not that she wants to be irresponsible. I understand it is difficult as a caregiver. I am one. Don’t lose heart.

  4. Barbara says:

    I just got off of the phone from having this conversation with my mother. She said I am just trying to get her upset and there is nothing wrong with her memory and that her memory is as good as it ever was. Last Sunday my daughter and I visited her and estimated her short term memory is about 1 minute. I did mention there are a lot of things it could be but again she insisted that her memory is fine. Finally her friend convinced her to go but I know she will go kicking and screaming!

  5. Kelsey says:

    My mom is only in her late 50’s but I’ve noticed some concerning memory loss and confusion. I am the only one that she has regular interaction with, I know that I need to have a talk with her about my concerns but I’m so scared to.

  6. Janet says:

    My husband refuses to see a neurologist and I am at my wits end. I started noticing changes about 4 years ago and the last 2 years it has gotten worse. He was involved in a car accident and thought someone was shooting at him. He left the scene of the accident and went on his way to the hardware store where the police caught up with him. He refuses to understand that his reaction was irrational at best. He loves to cook but can’t follow a recipe or remember how to cook ribs. His attention span is very limited. I am concerned that he will have another accident and injure or kill someone and we will lose everything we have worked hard for.

    • pguinto says:

      So sorry to hear about your husband. Please call our hotline at 800.272.3900 24 hours a day to talk to us about your situation.

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