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Published July 28, 2012, 11:30 PM

Bursack: Husband with Alzheimer’s refuses to see a specialist

DEAR CAROL: My husband went for a physical and was surprised by a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s in denial and won’t see a specialist for confirmation.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My husband went for a physical and was surprised by a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s in denial and won’t see a specialist for confirmation. So far, he can still function almost normally except for short-term memory loss and occasional confusion. His primary care doctor prescribed Aricept and Namenda, for now, but he did suggest we get a second opinion. What can I do to help my husband? Gale

DEAR GALE: Your husband’s denial isn’t unusual. He likely doesn’t want the diagnosis confirmed, so you may want to suggest a specialist by saying that the primary doctor could be wrong, which does happen. There are many types of dementia and a specialist is more likely to be able determine what specific type of dementia is present.

If your husband still won’t get a second opinion, you may have to temporarily go with the decision of his primary care doctor. At least you have one medical opinion. Ask the physician if tests for a urinary tract infection and medication reactions or interactions were done. These issues can cause dementia-like symptoms.

The medications your husband is taking can slow the progression of AD for some people, but they don’t work for everyone. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at this time. However, if you can encourage your husband to exercise regularly, eat well, and take fish oil supplements if his doctor approves, his overall health may improve. There are studies that show taking care of our health in this way may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Considering his attitude toward his AD diagnosis, however, I wouldn’t present this plan to your husband as anything related to Alzheimer’s. I’d frame it around his health in general. You may have better luck getting his cooperation if you join him in this program. Most people can benefit from a healthier lifestyle.

Education and planning are the next steps. I hope you have Power Of Attorney because you will need that, both for health care and some financial issues. This is something everyone should do, so his AD isn’t the only issue. You should both get this legal work done if you haven’t.

Please go online to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (alzfdn.org) or the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org). They both offer helpful resources. Knowing you are not alone is helpful. I’d suggest that you explore the Well Spouse Association at www.wellspouse.org, as well. Many spouses get support through that website.

Hopefully, your husband’s doctor and you or other family members can convince your husband to see a neurologist. Meanwhile, I’d concentrate on learning to manage the disease and see what the future brings. Take care of yourself. Your need for strength and support shouldn’t be underestimated.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.