Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory problems could be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other medical conditions, so it is important to obtain a proper diagnosis. Some memory problems can be readily treated, such as those caused by vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. Other memory problems might result from causes that are not currently reversible, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Open communication with your loved one’s health care professional and asking questions can help toward understanding a diagnosis and next steps, including treatment options and support.
FAQ: Discussing the Diagnosis
Q. What can I do about the fact that my loved one is in denial about his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease?
A. When faced with a diagnosis of dementia, many persons—both individuals with the disease and family
members—experience denial. Denial has served human beings as a useful protective mechanism.
It can be life-shattering when people obtain a diagnosis of dementia, especially in the earlier stages when they better understand what is happening. Their greatest fears are materializing. As a result, there could be a grief reaction—a trauma-like state that occurs in response to the losses they are facing. When it becomes too difficult to admit to those losses, denial sets in. It is far easier to say, “There is nothing wrong with me,” than to actually admit the truth.
What makes this tricky is that people with dementia may no longer have the proper coping mechanisms to appropriately process the grief—to work through the denial and accept the situation. Living in denial can obstruct the ability to recognize problems and interfere with their ability to successfully manage daily living activities, self-care and independent living.
Sometimes, denial can end when a person has collected overwhelming evidence for the truth—often as a result of worsening conditions or when the person is talked through it by a skilled therapist, an authority such as a doctor, or a chorus of relatives. Continue the discussion at home, but gently and with loving assertion. If your loved one reads, share selected material about the disease and use videos to reinforce points you are making. Always reassure him that you will take care of him.
There is no guarantee that he will understand or accept his new condition. However, the potential rewards make it worth trying. If he does come to accept his illness, he may also accept your gifts of help, participate in planning about future care, financial issues and other concerns, and will be more likely to experience contentment in daily routines.
There is another scenario as well. Depending on how far along people are in the disease process, it might be impossible to grasp the fact that they have Alzheimer’s disease. Since one of the first regions of the brain to be damaged by Alzheimer’s disease is the portion that affects short-term memory function, people with the illness are not capable of remembering that they have been repetitious or confused lately.
Therefore, they may not have any recall about a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease no matter how many times you say it. In fact, each reminder may only set the stage for an argument—or more anger. Trying to convince them that they have dementia and need help tends to backfire since their limited judgment and reasoning skills interfere with rational thinking
While self-awareness can be useful—for example, giving a caregiver a basis for discussion about the individual’s long-term care wishes, and legal and financial planning—ultimately, convincing someone that he or she has Alzheimer’s disease may not be so important.
Q. Does someone with Alzheimer’s disease ever stop being angry at you?
A. It helps to understand what people with Alzheimer’s disease are going through. They are living each moment with a sense of uncertainty regarding where they should be and what they should be doing. The world around them seems confusing and distorted, and they are trying to make sense of things with only tiny bits and pieces of information.
To complicate matters further, the damage done to the brain by Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s ability to control moods. Anger is only one example of this loss of control; people with dementia may laugh during a serious moment or cry without cause. The frustration of this lifestyle must be terribly difficult. Therefore, it is actually quite understandable that people with Alzheimer’s disease are often angry. So, as you can see, this anger is not intentional.What your loved one needs most from you and others is understanding. Kindness and patience are the solutions. The way you behave can serve to have a calming influence on your loved one. With a parent, it especially helps to use memories of what your mom or dad has done to help you through difficult times to feel empowered.