Getting Mom to See a Doctor

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • In late summer 2004, my phone rang at 5:30 a.m. Groggy after waking from a heavy sleep, I got up to answer it – and found my father on the other end of the line. He said my mom wanted me to come over to the hotel immediately and noted that she was in a rage.

    I quickly threw on clothes and headed over, praying that I would figure out the right words to say. I had an idea of why my mom was “going ballistic” – she had an initial appointment with a neurologist later that morning to discuss her memory loss. As I came down the hallway of the hotel, I mentally put up an invisible mental and emotional boundary to keep myself from being burned by my mom’s legendary anger.
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    In retrospect, her reaction shouldn’t be a surprise. A new study from the Center for Customer Insights at Yale School of Management has found that people are unlikely to undertake testing for illnesses that they view as severe and untreatable (such as Alzheimer’s). Another new study by the MetLife Foundation reported that adults aged 55 and older fear Alzheimer’s even more than cancer.

    So how do you deal with your loved one’s unabashed terror? Here’s what I did:

    1. I acknowledged that my mom had every right to feel worried. This was a big issue for her, especially since she took care of her own mother who had dementia.

    2. I also acknowledged to Mom that it was her health and she needed to have the say in what happened. I told her if she wanted, she could cancel the doctor’s appointment; however, I also told her that would be running away from whatever faced her and that there might be treatments for whatever was causing her memory loss.

    3. I reminded her of how she held my feet to the fire when as a young girl I tried to skip school when I didn’t memorize a required poem. I told her that lesson had been one that resonated through the years, and that I had the same expectations now that she had of me then. Running away didn’t solve anything for me as a girl, and it wasn’t going to solve anything for her now. In fact, running away was going to ensure that her memory was going to get worse.

    4. I told her that my brother, my cousin and I were very worried about her memory loss, and that we stood united in providing whatever support was needed for her. My mom had always been the matriarch of our side of the family, but my cousin had always held a special place in her heart. So by uniting the younger generation in gently push her toward getting a diagnosis was key.

    I consistently kept these key points flowing through the conversation. Finally after many tears and angry statements, she agreed that she would keep the doctor’s appointment. I ran home to change out of the sweats that I had so hastily thrown on upon receiving that morning’s phone call, and then raced back to the medical clinic to meet my parents. I asked my mom’s permission to come into the doctor’s appointment and met the neurologist. After performing a fairly comprehensive battery of mental and physical tests, the doctor said he wasn’t sure what was causing this memory loss, but wanted Mom to consider going through psychological testing. As she agreed to scheduling this next series of tests, my relief was palatable – at least we had gotten over the first hurdle of getting her to visit the neurologist.
Published On: June 01, 2006