I think my mother has Alzheimer’s, but my siblings don’t believe me. What should I do?
It can feel pretty isolating when you see your mother deteriorating while your brothers and sisters don’t want to face an Alzheimer's diagnosis. If they live farther away and don’t see your mother as often as you do, their views are going to be different because they simply don’t see Alzheimer's symptoms. They may be visiting with your mother or talking with her on the phone during a short period of time where she acts perfectly normal. Parents with dementia and some people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, especially if they have good social skills, can be very good at covering up the deterioration.
The best way to get everyone on the same page is to get to the heart of the matter by scheduling a geriatric assesment. What may look like Alzheimer’s to you could be a side effect of medication, signs of clinical depression, the results of a mini-stroke or even a B-12 deficiency. Your mother would do well to receive a complete geriatric assessment that includes a battery of tests that could determine whether or not she is experiencing some form of dementia or another condition.
Once those tests are completed, it would be helpful if your mother’s physician shared the results with you and your siblings to reach a family agreement about caregiving. Make arrangements with the doctor’s office for a conference call in order to include those who live out of town and can’t make the appointment. If the office doesn’t have that capacity, then at least have one other sibling attend with you. You could also bring a cell phone and call another sibling to listen in while the doctor explains your mother’s condition.
The objective is for at least one of your siblings to hear the same thing you hear from the doctor and for both of you to have the opportunity to ask questions. Following that session, you should share with each other what you heard the doctor say and then jot down notes about what you’ll tell your other siblings. By involving your brothers and sisters early in the diagnosis, they’ll feel included and they won’t be second-guessing whether your instincts are correct.
If it turns out to be Alzheimer’s or any other serious illness that requires a good deal of caregiving on your part, then it will be important for all of you to understand the course of the disease and what to expect in terms of the care your mother will need. The more the entire family understands how Alzheimer’s progresses, the more likely you’ll be able to act as a team. No matter where each of you lives, each of you could attend a support group offered by a local Alzheimer’s Association
One way to get the family sharing Alzheimer's caregiving is to have them spend two to three days caring for her while you leave for a short break. It’s also a good idea to keep a journal for a week describing the tasks you perform to take care of your mother. Giving her medications, taking her to doctors’ appointments, preparing meals, taking her to adult day care, helping her with exercises, performing household chores, addressing her emotional needs and keeping her safe are just some of the things you likely do all week long. Share the list with your siblings and ask if any of them would like to volunteer to help with any of the items on the list. Even from a distance someone can make arrangements for doctors’ appointments and adult day care, pay some bills, look up information on various medications, research medical conditions or make calls to Medicare and insurance carriers. Everyone can pitch in to help pay for a housecleaning service or send some catered meals your way to make your life easier.
Reach out to your siblings and get family agreement on caregiving. Caring for your mother is a family affair.