My mom was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 70. Looking back, we can trace the signs of early onset about seven years before the official diagnosis. Being one of six children, my siblings and I could never get away with anything because of my mother’s impeccable memory. She always would proudly say “I never forget.”
The first incident I can remember that hinted to Alzheimer’s disease occurred when my youngest son was 18 months old. I had to have root canal and my mom was going to watch him for me. I drove to her house, as I usually would, waiting for her to come home from her job as a lunch aide at a local elementary school. I waited for almost an hour and she never returned home. I ended up having to hold my son on my lap during the procedure. When I questioned her about her absence, she told me that she had gone to the mall with her friend and had completely forgot about the plans we made. Everyone forgets occasionally, I thought, so although it was odd, I brushed it off.
My mom was an impeccable dresser- never going out unless her outfit was just right. She shopped at all of the high-end department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. My sisters and I noticed that slowly, over the years, she would wear the same outfit two days in a row or not be appropriately dressed for a graduation or holiday. We knew her two brothers had dementia, and we wondered, could it be happening to our mother, too? We started to point these things out to her and that was definitely a mistake! She would get very argumentative and deny that there was any validity to what we were saying. We really didn’t know what to do; she would get so angry, she would throw us out of the house.
The beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, or any type of dementia, can be one of the most difficult times for families that are worried about their loved one. Most times your loved one gets angry with you because they are afraid and confused about what is going on. Also, someone with memory loss will deny it simply because they cannot remember that they cannot remember.
It is best not to confront your loved one about their apparent forgetfulness because they will almost always become defensive. The main concern is to get them to a doctor and let him/her try to speak with your mother/father as a patient. But, getting them to go to the doctor is a whole different struggle. If they have a pre-existing medical condition it’s easier, because they’ll need regular visits anyway. You can write a letter or call the doctor explaining your concerns and ask him/her to address it during the visit.
If you are like me, and your loved one has no pre-existing medical conditions, a trip to the doctor’s office may be more difficult to orchestrate. In this case you will need to get creative. It may be autumn and they need a flu shot or a yearly check up, or perhaps your parent needs blood work. If these reasons fail, go ahead and make the appointment with your parent’s general physician. Be sure to tell your loved one in advance about the appointment. Most likely, he/she will deny the appointment and refuse to go. That is okay. You are counting on him/her forgetting because of the short term memory loss, but you’re planting the seed. The day of the appointment, take them to lunch, ice cream, or something they might usually and simply stop at the doctor’s office on the way . You will question them on their memory of the appointment. Nine times out of ten they will go along with you as not to let on to you they don’t remember. Simply say “Mom, don’t you remember I told you that you had a doctor’s appointment today? It is just a check-up.” She will most likely agree and then the rest is left up to the doctor.
Recognizing the early stages of memory impairment is scary; but know that you’re not alone. There are resources available to support you now and as the illness progresses. Simply reach out and ask for help.