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Ask Dr. Zoe – How to Address My Loved One’s Failing Health

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‘Caregiver’ Asked:

I have an older relative who is becoming more and more forgetful. She’ll misplace items, forget what she was doing, forget conversations. Added to this there may be a hearing decline because the TV is getting louder and “What?” is a common question. How should I handle the situation as far as suggesting a hearing check or medical checkup?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Pointing out that something may be wrong with someone can be a sticky proposition. The reality is that if you live long enough, you will eventually develop some form of senility, which is just the normal process of aging. But dementia and Alzheimer’s are very different things.

You didn’t mention if your older relative is in her seventies, eighties, or nineties. If a 60- or 70-year-old is quickly becoming more and more forgetful and misplacing things, it is of much greater concern than a 90-year-old exhibiting those behaviors.

Difficult discussions are best approached early and often.

I’m always about facing things head on. If you’re noticing her memory issues, I can guarantee you that she is too. Sitting her down and having a frank conversation is always the best answer. Let her know that you have noticed that she seems more forgetful and also seems to have a harder time hearing lately. Ask her if she has noticed any of those things. See if she is defensive or open about it.

If she is defensive, attempt to calm her agitation by letting her know that you have looked up some things that may be going on with her (I suggest you do this—dementia, Alzheimer’s, medical causes for forgetfulness, etc.) and all of them have treatments that have been proven to help. There are so many advances in medicine, but the sooner the treatment, the better the outcome.

Sitting her down and having a frank conversation is always the best answer.

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Elderly people are people like everyone else. It’s scary for anyone to realize that something may be wrong with them. It’s easier to stick your head in the sand and not find out what’s going on. It’s usually not the best choice, but the best choices aren’t always the easier ones.

Express your concerns to prevent denial or serious health issues.

Growing old comes with its own worries and fears. Anyone prone to denial will apply it to these issues as well. The best way to confront denial is head on, from a loving place. The thing about denial is trying to break through it usually never works the first time. You’ve got to hit it head on and give the information a chance to sink in and soften the wall before you hit it again.

So tell her outright what you’re seeing. Expect some defensiveness. Wait a few days and come back to her with some articles and pamphlets. Let that sit for a few days and then approach her again in a loving, concerned way. The more you talk about it, the easier it is for both of you.

If she isn’t defensive, offer to take her or accompany her to a doctor’s appointment where you can both explain to the doctor what you are experiencing. A personal and objective account is great information for any doctor to help in making an appropriate diagnosis and referral.

Difficult discussions are best approached early and often. You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace!


For more articles on caring for others, start here:

Practical Tips for When Your Loved One is Terminally Ill
When Life Gives You a New Normal
Battling the Mind Monster: A Letter to My Mom

When Bearing Their Burden Breaks You
Anatomy of a Strong Woman

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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