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Published May 18, 2013, 11:32 PM

Minding Our Elders: Siblings disagree about mom seeking dementia evaluation

Dear Carol: My sister Jean has wanted our mom to see a doctor about memory issues for months but Mom says she’s fine. Jean lives out of town, so she set aside a day to come into town and take Mom to lunch and get Mom’s hair cut. Then, Jean sprung a doctor appointment on Mom and, not surprisingly, Mom refused to go. She and Jean had a fight. I took Mom’s side, which probably didn’t help matters.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

Dear Carol: My sister Jean has wanted our mom to see a doctor about memory issues for months but Mom says she’s fine. Jean lives out of town, so she set aside a day to come into town and take Mom to lunch and get Mom’s hair cut. Then, Jean sprung a doctor appointment on Mom and, not surprisingly, Mom refused to go. She and Jean had a fight. I took Mom’s side, which probably didn’t help matters.

Mom already sees her doctor for osteoporosis and severe arthritis, but she won’t take memory tests even though her memory is slipping a lot. She also has some confusion. Mom has some in-home care and I see her often, but my sister thinks Mom should be in assisted living. I think Jean feels that a dementia diagnosis will make that more clear to Mom and me. I don’t want to upset my relationship with Jean, and I value the help she gives Mom. How do we find middle ground? – Randy

Dear Randy: I think your sister is right about getting an evaluation. Jean even went about it in a way that suggests she’s done some research into getting a reluctant elder to a physician. Often this approach works, though it obviously didn’t with your mom.

You may want to let your mom know that her memory glitches could be due to her medications or an infection that is curable. Also, tell her that there are medications that can slow down the progression of dementia, if that is what she has. Since fear is the likely reason your mom refuses to be evaluated, she may be more cooperative if you stress that there could be a positive outcome.

You seem to have a good routine for taking care of your mom for now, but she will increasingly need more assistance. That will likely mean either you hire more in-home care or move her to assisted living. One thing to consider would be how she’d adjust to an eventual move. Moving is hard on people with dementia because a familiar environment helps them feel more secure. Conversely, a new environment, no matter how nice, can be confusing. If your mom does test positive for dementia, moving will probably be harder on her as the disease progresses, so there may be a reason not to wait too long.

Since you value Jean’s help, you may have to take the initiative in mending fences. Try to convey to your sister that you understand she meant well and that your mom’s resistance to seeing a doctor frustrates you, too. If your sister understands that you know she wants the best for Mom, she may not be so insistent about changing to assisted living immediately.

I believe that you and Jean both want what’s best for your mom. You simply look at the situation from different angles. Maybe you could talk with Jean about giving your mom more time to come to terms with her memory loss. Meanwhile, agree to keep a good eye on her and keep Jean informed.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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