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.

7 thoughts on “How should I approach having my parent screened for early Alzheimer’s?

  • 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?

  • 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.

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  • Finlay Cedar

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  • Cathleen Harrison

    I have a father who is new. He has not been diagnosed but showing symptoms. He ask me when his appointments are even though his best friend takes him to the appointment. He watches Star Wars over and over and gets mad when I confront him, he stated he is watching all 6 episodes. The only thing he cooks is breakfast at night and during the day and forgets that anything is on. He use to be the person to ask important history questions and now we can’t even ask him anything with him have to think about it for a while.

  • Annie Johnson

    My Father is going to be 89 in January. He is acting differently, but it is so hard to determine if it is Dementia, or if his behavior is fairly normal for his age. I am 50, and I moved in to care for him after my mother passed away in 2015. He wasn’t doing well alone. The first year or so he seemed just fine, however recently he is asking the same questions over and over again. He doesn’t remember my or my brother’s birthdays, etc. The other day he asked if I had completed my medicare paperwork. I had no idea why he asked this question, but I had to remind him that I am employed full time, I am not 65 or retired, or disabled. He just looked at me with a deer in the headlights stare. He asks me on Monday what my plans for the next day are. I tell him. That same evening he asks me “what are your plans for tomorrow?”. And we do this back and forth about 3 times a day. He is also becoming sneaky-which is hard to explain. I do the grocery shopping because he can’t make it around the grocery store. But I will return from work and find a walmart bag, and find out he drove 30 miles to pick up one item. He is also mixing words. He joins two words together, and then will self correct after he puts more thought into what he had just said. His speech is slurred during various times of the day. He drinks beer before dinner-usually 3. But his speech is slurred and strained when he is not drinking-and he doesn’t drink enough to have slurred speech. Lastly, he is behaving in a very manipulative or juvenile manner. Some things he does are inappropriate, such as using crude language and making inappropriate comments. I have asked his PCP do do a mini cog and the MMSE, but he won’t do it and he hasn’t referred my Dad to a neurologist. He does have plaque on his brain, and his previous Dr. advised I needed to monitor that, but never explained why. So what do I do? I need some advice, his Dr, as you can see is not very cooperative, so I am looking into a new one tomorrow. I need a diagnosis to explain the changes in his behavior.

  • Margarita Subia

    My mother is showing signs and sympotoms of alzheimer’s even more so now in the last few months. My mom forgets where she is has even forgot how to write or spell her own name. My mom is the glue to our family and here lately I have takennover that role as her daughter. She always stares off in the distance, and when asked any questions that she could normally answer quite elaborately she looks to someone to help her speak and asks over and over for you to repeat the question. She can tell u a story from the past about 5 to 6 times over in one conversation. She forgets what she is saying. She watches movies over and over and can’t tell you what they are about. She has diabetes and her health seems to be deteriorating quickly like her memory at times. Me and my dad have had to keep up with meal and med management. Something my mother was always really really good at. My mother is young she is 53. How do I get her screened when her own doctor doesn’t believe when we explain how she is and tells us it is due to her diabetes being out of control. She at the begining of this year was hospitalized for having a diabetic episode. She convulsed and went unconscious due to her sugars being so high( hence why me and my dad took over food and med management). They said it wasn’t a stroke but checked her and said in the paperwork she has some form of undiagnosed dementia. Her doctor still doesn’t believe us and won’t see her in person to evaluate her due to the COVID. I am trying to hold all of this together while caring for my family. I am 32 going through a divorce with 8 kids under 12 yrs of age.

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