Let’s not have the doctor tell your father he has Alzheimer’s

stethoscopeHeartWhile my parents are in Assisted Living and receive medical care and support for their activities of daily living, I still want to continue their habit of an annual physical with their military doctors. It allows me to ensure that I am well versed on their medical state, understand and ask questions. Most of their appointments in Assisted Living happen when I’m not present and it’s difficult to piece together from the reports. Many times I can’t read the doctor’s hand writing.

As we sit in the medical office waiting for the doctor to arrive, my Mom is telling me that Dad is not doing very well. She is angry that he doesn’t engage in more activities and won’t join us on our shopping trips. Repeatedly, I have shared that Dad can’t help that his brain has changed, which changes him. I tell her he might feel uncomfortable leaving their home. When my Mom continues to complain to me, I will usually softly tell her that Dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “Oh” she replies.

This is not the first time I have told her this, but she doesn’t remember. I try my best not to resort to this because each time I tell her, it feels like she is hearing the news for the first time. Each time, she is noticeably saddened by the news.

She asks if this means she should be a little kinder to him. She admits to chiding him for sitting and reading all day and showing no interest in any activities. She knows that he is going to see the doctor after her and says “Let’s not have the doctor tell your father he has Alzheimer’s.” Beloved. 

9 thoughts on “Let’s not have the doctor tell your father he has Alzheimer’s

  1. “She asks if this means she should be a little kinder to him.” How sweet and touching. What’s more, it’s exactly how we should all be when interacting with those who have Alzheimer’s.

    1. Yes! It is nice to see my mom so calm and loving toward my dad. It took me a while to understand that they can’t change, so those of us around them must.

  2. My mother became really aggressive (actually downright mean) towards my father for the same reason. She was furious with him because he was sitting in a chair or sleeping all day. At the time my mom was the focus of our fears for a number of reasons and Dad seemed to be fading away. When my sister and mother took him to the doctor, the first time he saw a PA, who said it that at 84 it was just “old age”. Alarmed by what we saw as unusual behavior and withdrawal, we made another appt. with the actual doctor. Dad must have been suffering in silence for a very long time, scans showed that he was riddled with cancer and he died less than a month later. We are still kicking ourselves for not seeing his withdrawal for what it was. Mom was devastated over her treatment of him and although we know it was related to her impaired cognitive abilities, it’s hard to say that to her. And a little hard not to be upset with her.

    1. You story brings back to me many emotions. Life isn’t for sissies for sure. When the doctor isn’t recognizing it and your parents want to keep you at arm’s length / can’t recognize the signals that something is wrong – it’s frustrating. We have seen so many sterotypes of aging and to have a doctor dismiss a changing personality to “old age” ruffles my feathers. However, when the doctor doesn’t know the patient, so many signs that something is wrong are missed. The family / friends really have to help and encourage because it’s apparently a very common problem the medical community hasn’t quite solved. Just last week my parents got a 29/30 and 25/30 on the mini-mental cognitive tests. The doctor was floored that they did so well since she had seen their neuropsychological testing. We are all learning.

  3. It is frustrating.
    There are some small victories, however, as you know.
    My mother was hospitalized 4 times in 3 months. She has COPD and is on oxygen-but the culprit? Dehydration!
    My 86 year old mother had steadfastly refused to drink anything. She hated water, ice water, iced teas, any carbonated drinks. She would like one juice and drink a little of it one day, but not the next. She would drink a little coffee. If we tried to persuade her to drink, she would claim she wouldn’t be able to eat if she drank -or she would just get nasty-not the mother we grew up with, for sure.
    Her symptoms that led to hospitalizations: weakness, dizziness, inability to walk, word retrieval, memory and cognitive issues. Every time she was hospitalized, they would do CTs, MRIs and find nothing-but she improved significantly because of the IV.
    Finally, after the 4th hospitalization, she had an epiphany! On her own,she’s now drinking at least 40 ounces of water a day! She ‘s now walking without the walker and cognition and behavior are back to what she was like in her seventies. Best of all she acknowledges the difference and is participating in her own care with a new sense of control over her own life that doesn’t revolve around fighting us all tooth and nail over everything. What relief!
    By the way, the wonderful doctor we finally found sends us a printout of the happenings at each office visit. At the last visit, mom complained that she couldn’t eat. That she never felt hungry and never wanted to eat anything (not really strictly accurate, one of us is always there with her for at least one big meal a day and she eats well if we’re eating, too). The doctor reported her complaints and labeled her issue as “anorexia”. My mother was appalled that he might think that, and has been showing more interest in meals, and eating more as a result. The doctor’s response- he wrote her out a prescription for Tiramisu. Small victories

    1. What a lovely story … given the world we are navigating that is! It is such a relief to find a great doctor and glad you found one and your mom could recognize how to help herself!

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