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!