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How should I approach having my parent screened for early Alzheimer's?

March 16, 2012

Question: For years my Dad and mother have had a ritual of an evening “happy hour.” Dad always makes mom a martini, but lately he is making mistakes. He puts in tonic water. He gets the proportions wrong. My mom makes a face and asks, “What did you put in this?” and he gets all defensive. He’s been slipping up on many small things recently, and this is too big to ignore. Could this be early Alzheimer’s?

I am a terrible mixologist and my imbibing is generally limited to red wine (good for the brain!), but it sounds like your father has had his martini recipe down for years.

I do think your concerns are valid.

Whether it’s making a martini or tending the garden, making mistakes while doing something one has done for many years is a perfect example of an Alzheimer’s-like symptom or behavior.

A good evaluation by a neurologist will give you some answers. A good evaluation typically includes blood work, a brain scan and a thorough neurological exam. Sometimes the physician will order a neuropsychological exam, which tests your dad’s memory, thinking and judgment. A common task during a neuropsychological test might include naming as many animals as he can in 30 seconds, drawing abstract objects, or word recall tests. We know enough about Alzheimer’s disease and the other dementias to be highly confident of our diagnoses.

But it sounds like getting him there might be tricky. One option might be for you or your mother to call his regular doctor and share your concerns privately. Responding to a request from his doctor keeps your dad in control and doesn’t set you up as the “bad guy”.

A well-groomed, reasonably with-it person can easily “pass” a short appointment. To urge the doctor to go deeper, follow up your phone conversation with a letter detailing recent incidents. Bounced checks, getting lost, forgetting the martini recipe—put any incidents of concern down on paper.

Once you are at the physician’s office, be sure to stay with your dad for the examination. That way you can hear the doctor’s recommendations and get a first-hand report. If you stay in the waiting you’re your dad may come out and report that all is well! He may not have understood the doctor’s message or have forgotten key parts of the conversation.

Hopefully the physician will discover a reversible issue, such as a B-12 deficiency, a medication issue, or depression. If it is Alzheimer’s disease, consider the dementia medications and focus on keeping your dad as active and engaged as possible.

Some research suggests that a little bit of alcohol is good for the brain, whether it be red wine or the daily martini. Let him continue to be the official bartender, with a bit of assistance from you or your mother to help him maintain this enjoyable past ritual. If his dementia worsens, you may want to consider switching to non-alcoholic beverages or encouraging dad to adopt a healthier, simpler ritual, like making a pot of sensory rich, comforting, and enjoyable herbal tea.

Additional Alzheimer’s and Dementia Resources are available to assist you in caring for your senior loved one.

Thoughts and stories from others

  1. June 5, 2016 at 03:15 pm
    Posted by NGAy

    111575 6106Hey mate, .This was an excellent post for such a hard subject to talk about. I look forward to seeing many more excellent posts like this one. Thanks 843526
  2. December 25, 2014 at 08:08 am
    Posted by Vickie Kuli

    My husband has been diagnosed with a dementia and various other physical problems. This week while working in the yard, he left our dogs unattended and one has gone missing. I specifically asked that the dogs remain in the house while I was gone. This has left me heartbroken. I am at a loss as to how to regain the confidence I had in him and affection we previously shared. He is young, 58, and we are new to this diagnosis and life changing ordeal. Please give me some advice.
  3. December 7, 2012 at 02:50 pm
    Posted by Debra

    My mother-in-law is showing signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. However, she becomes very defensive and angry such as when my husband spoke with her about seeing a doctor. She made an appointment but wouldn't allow anyone to accompany her and stated that her physician said she is fine. She has now lost two jobs because she "forgot" to go although she says she was never given a date in which she was to go. She denies being more forgetful. How can we approach her to get her the help she needs as when anyone states a concern she stops talking to them. What can we do?

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