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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Leblanc: Convincing loved ones to go to a doctor

Common Sense Caregiving


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If you have friends or loved ones who are showing signs of dementia, you will want to get them to a doctor for a professional diagnosis. This might sound simple but in reality it can be an arduous task. Personally, it took at least two years for me to win this battle with my father. Unfortunately I had to take on his doctor as well.

At the time, dad’s doctor was both his personal friend and about the same age. I would watch in dismay as my father would walk into the office, shake hands and joke with the doctor, handling himself quite well for the 10-minute appointment. He would tell his doctor I was overreacting. Meanwhile, on the return drive home, I couldn’t even convince dad that he just saw his doctor!

So much time was wasted during these two years. Dad should have been receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s disease all of that time. Early diagnosis is extremely important with all dementia related diseases. Any medications available work best in the early stages.

We caregivers have a real battle on our hands. First we have to struggle our way through the stigmas of the disease. Then “denial” kicks in and we have to find a way to convince our loved ones that the sooner they’re diagnosed, the better their quality of life will be. Yes there is life after the diagnosis but, again, the sooner we learn how to manage the symptoms, the less complicated life will be.

If your loved one has regular doctor appointments, call the physician’s office to tell the staff about the changes you are noticing and let them know you are significantly worried. Ask them to make note of this and attach it to the patient’s file so the doctor can address it at the next appointment.

Sometimes it takes hearing it from their doctor for people with early dementia to acknowledge there’s a problem.

If they don’t have regular visits, try to get them to understand that if — and use that word — there is a problem, addressing it early on is prudent. You might have to be adamant about this, but don’t give up! This is too important!

I recommend you begin keeping a daily journal. Make note of everything you are observing: forgetting to turn off boiling water on the stove, forgetting names of old friends (or your name), financial mistakes, etc. Anything you notice that is unusual for them. After you have compiled a week’s worth, sit down in a non-confrontational manner and show them. “This is what I have seen you do during the last week.” Showing them something in writing can help persuade them there truly is a problem. Assure them you are in it for the long haul and will not abandon them. This will help alleviate some of the initial anxiety.

If this doesn’t work, there’s the old: “I know you’re perfectly healthy; but I’m making an appointment for myself, why don’t I make one for you as well?”

I hope you won’t run into the situations I did. I literally had to wait for my dad’s doctor to retire! When the new doctor took over the practice, this intelligent, astute man looked at me and said, “You have a problem here!” My response was, “Where in the world have you been for the last two years!”

I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to get on the right track as early as possible. Remember this is time you never can get back. Use it wisely.

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at His newly released book, “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books, “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at

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