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!

30 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.

    • Paula says:

      Ah Mike…. reading your story hits close to home… this is how it is with my spouse 69 years old…. he can make me feel that I am the one with the problem…. I fee so sad for him, your mom and others like them…. buy it is also very hard on us… I cry often… truly hard to hard to have a serious conversation about the illness, we need to stay strong!!

  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.

  7. Lisa says:

    I am so thankful I found this site. My mother had a bad fall and shattered her wrist and broke her shoulder. While caring for her, I noticed her short term memory is really short.. But long term is still fine.. I monitored this for 4 weeks now and just waited to see if it got better or worst.. Until today.. She had told me that the surgeon that put her wrist back together could not see her and wanted her to go to the ER and get a x-ray and request for physio.. We went this morning and boy what a eye opener. I took her back to the ER that she has been dealing with while healing. To say the least, the DR in ER called her surgeon and I found out that she has been calling their office over and over demanding him to see her and that they explained to her that she still has 2 weeks of healing to do before anything else can be done.. I was so embarrassed.. She has no recollection of them telling her that. So I had a nice long talk with her after I found a DR that would meet with us ( she does not have a family Dr and usually just goes to the walk in) I confined her that we should go meet this new Dr and check them out for a full time Dr for her. She agreed like nothing.. I also got her a day timer that she is to write in daily. We updated all her events in it this evening. I also have a paper and pen beside the phone, that she is to write who she talked to and when ( her friends are complaining that she calls them 3 times a day and not remembering the other calls). I hoping this all helps.. It is so hard to take someone so independent and trying to explain to them that their life is changing. I know she knows and also know she is trying her best to hide her memory loss from me. But I worried she will hurt herself somehow or lose every friend she has left.. Your site has helped me to see there are people just like me out there struggling with the same issues.. I’ll update and tell how the new Dr spot tomorrow goes as that will be a big heads up to her that I’m concerned.

  8. Betty Theis says:

    Myself, I am 65. In fairly good health. My husband is 69 in excellent health…. Just recently decided he was too old to ride roller coasters! He says the violent jerking of his brain the reason. Over the last few years I began to notice memory dysfunction. In fact he would argue aggressively that it was always I who had had a “bad memory” all of our married life. That is true. He could recall events from our early marriage that I couldn’t recall at all. Sometimes the fights were about what time we were to be at an event. Or what someone said in casual conversations. Because of my memory always being not so good…. He always wins. Now, in the last few years when he forgets something ….. If he doesn’t remember it…. It didn’t happen! I guess you can see his independence along with his disconnection from me has not left me in a very good position going into our senior years. His memory loss now is becoming concerning. Attended a birthday party at our grandson’s father’s home. A month before our former son-in-law borrowed our power washer to wash his deck. Then he painted it a completely different color. As you can imagine he was proud to show us the finished project. Birthday party happens at his home and we’re all there. Everyone notices and comments on the new paint job and color. Including my husband. Two months later we are dropping off our grandson at his father’s home. My husband says “when did you do that?” Speaking about the deck. Both my former son-in-law and I look puzzled at him and we both said…. Don’t you remember? Yea, you remember… I borrowed your power washer to clean it and paint it before L’s birthday! Now my husband looked puzzled…. Reluctantly shaking his head yes….. That was almost three months ago. Little things have happened since but yesterday I casually mentioned a loan we made to one of our children and wondered if we’d get it back one day. He said, I loaned money? I said yes, a down payment on a house four years ago. He said, well it must have been paid back in full or I would remember it. My husband has always been very deligent with his money. Balancing the checkbook every month to the penny. Investing it well, managing our nest egg very well. To think he doesn’t remember loaning thousands of dollars to our child…. Really concerns me. He violently disagrees that he has nothing but a brilliant memory… He pretty much is in control of me and our finances. Any advice?

    • Margarita says:

      Hi Betty, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. We have trained professionals available 24/7 to guide you through this situation, you can call 1.800.272.3900 or visit our website to learn about the resources available to you where you live: http://alz.org/we_can_help_we_can_help.asp.

    • Paula says:

      Betty this is also my story…. reading all the testimonials…. OMG is it ever so difficult and sometimes scary!!! Im 65 and my spouse 69… he also cannot admit of the problem… the other day he could not understand how I could work on my laptop and that my computer and tower were at the office, a few times he was mixed up with dates and I had to take out the calendar to show him…. but itès always me with the problem. I cry a lot!!

    • GardeningJunkie says:

      Betty- I am teary this morning facing the fact that my spouse of almost 50 years and who turned 70 this year, I am almost 69, is showing signs of early dementia. Searching the internet for ways to deal with this or approach it with him I found this site and of all the contributors your story seemed more like mine and that made me even sadder. The only difference is that my husband’s short term memory lapses although happening have not advanced as far as your husbands. We can watch a recorded TV series and the next night we plan to watch the next one and he will return to the show we watched the night before because he has no memory of watching it, even if I give him the story line, I calmly explain we’ve see it and this angers him. This I think is my biggest concern. Not only is he forgetful, but he is loosing his anger controls. He has never been a screamer, a logical airline pilot and also financial adviser, still working today as a very successful consultant. Now at least once or twice a week he get purple in the face and screams and calls me a Bitch for basically no logical reason. He has done this with dinner guests who sit and watch with huge round eyes looking at him and me and I just try to keep my cool and act if nothing is happening. He ruined a business relationship recently believing he had more rights than he legally had and I was there and watched him explode swearing with spittle hanging on his lips at this man in front of the employees and I stayed fearing he might harm this individual, just hoping I might provide a bit of reality to the situation. He has his annual check up with his Family Practice doctor next week and I want so much to contact the doctors nurse to let them know my concerns, yet if he found out I would jeopardize the great marriage we have always had and I so want to help him. He also drinks at least 4 big drinks each night, Gin and 101 Bourbon so this has got to affect him in the long run. Of course he never drank while flying, but at age 70 it can also affect the brain cells.

      • Alz Staff says:

        Thank you for your comment illuminating your situation and the difficulties inherent in the diagnosis and early stages of dementia and related disorders. We hope that you contact our 24/7 helpline at 800.272.3900 as we have representatives available to listen and discuss your concerns as well as walk through ideas on how to handle situations such as yours.

  9. Sarah says:

    I don’t know how to get my mom to the doctor, she refuses to go. Her memory is really bad, she dosent remember anything I said 30 minutes ago, she’s become very paranoid and talks very mean to us. It’s really hard to deal with. Any ideas on how to get her to dr. Any ideas are allreciated

  10. Kathy Mitchell says:

    I think this is a US site a I just tried calling the number from Australia and it didnt work. Im an only child and so worried about my mother. She has all 12 signs mentioned in the article about dementia. She seems to be getting worse. This morning I was trying to explain to her how to use the kepad on her flip phone which she has had for 10 years and she couldn’t get it. She kept picking up the landline and was pressing that keypad – she said she was having a bad day – seriously. She has no husband and no friends. Her personality has totally changed – she has become a self-centred self-absorbed miserable whiner. There is no way Im going to broach the subject – she screams like a banshee if I tell her she already told me something 2 mins before. I dont know who to turn to for guidance. 2 years ago I asked her doctor to surreptitiously check her for dementia. When she came out she said I think he was testing me for dementia from the questions he asked. Im getting to the stage it is impacting my health and I feel like I can barely breathe. Im really resenting how she is impacting my life. Im having anxiety attacks from trying to remain calm in her presence. Someone help me please. Thank u in advance.

    • margarita says:

      Hi Kathy, so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. You’re correct that we’re located in the U.S. but I just did some research and there is a National Dementia Helpline in Australia: call 1800 100 500 (available 9am to 5pm weekdays). Hope they’ll be able to help. Let us know if there is anything else we can do. Thank you for your message!

  11. Lisa says:

    I just came across this thread. I have a question. If there is memory loss and a change in personality, like uncharacteristic aggression, is this more likely to be Alzheimer’s than memory loss alone? Otherwise, that’s more like dementia, right? Honestly, the aggression & lashing out concerns me more than the memory loss. She’s always been helpful, caring & a good hostess. She just recently told guests over for Christmas to “get it yourself” when it came to serving a meal. It’s way different than how she was. She blames the behavior on many things, but doesn’t see the big picture. She apologized when she yelled “shut up” to me. She had never screamed at me like that in my life, let alone tell me to shut up. I knew it was out of character, so I just walked away. Things like this, she will say she was hungry, stressed, tired or hurting. She took a bad fall back in the spring & actually cracked her back and ankle. She’s gone downhill since then. Her sister, a retired nurse, asked me to get a list of her meds if I can. Dad was more supportive, but I think he’s getting scared & going into denial. My brother is very busy with his family, job & lives a good distance away, too. I feel like it’s up to me now. It’s a lonely and scary path I see before me. I’m scared to even talk to her now. She’s changed so much. My brother has been here for Christmas, but leaves tomorrow. We don’t have a plan yet because I’ve been sick for the past 2 days. Looking for some guidance. (Also, she’s confessed problems with her memory to my older son, but is also arguing with my dad in front of both my kids now every time they are visiting. Same with me and my husband.)

    • margarita says:

      Hi Lisa, we’re very sorry to hear about what you’re doing through. Please take advantage of our 24/7 Free Helpline by calling 1.800.272.3900. We also provide free support groups and education. To find out what resources are available where you live, please visit http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_we_can_help.asp. To answer your question, dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Visit this link to learn more: http://www.alz.org/dementia/types-of-dementia.asp.

  12. Gia says:

    My mother has started saying things that just aren’t true and make no sense. The memory problems are bad, too. She can’t remember how to use the cordless phone. I went and got her a regular corded one. The thing is… she’s convinced that things have happened that really have not. She thought a strange man came in her house and said he worked for the television provider. She said my stepdad was there and told the man to leave. My stepdad says this never happened. She’s also convinced that my brother got activated with the military. This did happen several years ago. She thinks it has happened again.
    She says nothing is wrong with her memory. She even called and told me that my stepdad is crazy. There is no way this woman is ever going to the doctor and telling him she has memory problems I called her oncologist before her last appointment (this was a check up. She’s in remission) and talked to his nurse. She said she would inform the doctor. Nothing came of that. My call was ignored completely.
    I’m going to try to talk to her about my concerns. I just don’t feel that it’s going to go very well. It didn’t for my stepdad.

    • Alz Staff says:

      Hi Gia, we encourage you to call our helpline at 800.272.3900. One of our representatives may be able to offer guidance and talk through ideas regarding your particular situation.

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