Is It Alzheimer’s? How to Talk About Getting an Evaluation

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What can you do to get your loved one who is suspected of having a memory problem to go to the doctor for a proper evaluation? First, don’t assume that your spouse or parent won’t follow up on the suggested doctor visit. You may be surprised by his or her willingness to go. Still, many people get a common response of, “I don’t think anything is wrong with my memory, and there is no reason to see a doctor.”

If that’s the case, a good retort would be, “Please, do it for me. I would feel a lot better if I knew there was nothing wrong with you.” This way, the burden is taken off the person with the suspect memory and placed on the spouse or concerned family member. Agreeing to see the doctor under this condition is usually acceptable.

Group pressure to get a loved one to submit to a medical evaluation can work wonders when an individual family member gets turned down. If everyone in the family agrees that faulty memory is an important issue and they then express their desire for a medical checkup for their parent, an agreement to see the doctor is more likely.

And what if there is still reluctance to seek medical advice? Some people choose to live their lives free of doctors, and that’s everyone’s right. Granted, it is very hard to sit idly by, watching someone make poor choices, knowing that in the long run it could possibly hurt him or her. But it’s probably a good idea to hold off for a month or two before bringing up the notion of visiting the doctor again. Saying “I’m still concerned about your memory. Will you think about seeing the doctor this week?” is a useful way to reopen the conversation.

A more difficult issue is what to do when the person who refuses to get an evaluation is clearly in danger. Steps you should consider include mentioning your concerns to the person’s primary care physician, describing your concerns to the person as a medical rather than a memory issue, or, as a last resort, contacting the local public agency charged with evaluating and protecting the at-risk elderly.

Since many older people have regularly scheduled doctor appointments due to a variety of other medical issues, there’s nothing wrong with calling ahead and mentioning to the doctor that you have worries about your loved one’s memory and would like this discussed at the next appointment. Alternatively, if you typically accompany your spouse or parent on doctor visits, you can bring up your concerns at this time.

Bottom-line advice. Don’t jump to conclusions about the nature of the perceived memory problems of your loved one. Many people don’t have severe memory problems indicative of Alzheimer’s, even when they are in their 70s or older. This is reassuring, as is the fact that there are medications and therapies to assist those who do have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Keep in mind that several causes of memory difficulties can be reversed. Memory loss may be linked to low thyroid levels, poor nutrition, medication side effects or depression. Sometimes, after performing a few tests, a doctor may find that memory issues are directly caused by thyroid disease, low vitamin B12 or several other potentially treatable causes. Sometimes the doctor may suspect that the memory impairment is due to an adverse reaction to a medication that the person is taking. If this is the case, stopping the medication (if possible), switching to another drug, or lowering the dosage can rectify these memory issues.