Visits to the doctor’s office with a patient with Alzheimer’s disease can be like a three-ring circus; you don’t know which circus performer will come dressed as your loved one once you reach the center ring. Will your loved one do a verbal somersault in order to hide the memory loss or offer cotton candy to tempt the medical professional to determine that all is OK?
Before she was diagnosed with dementia but was already suffering from short-term memory loss, Mom forbade family members from joining her to see the doctor. She was paranoid about everything and almost everyone at that point and would lash out like a Bengal tiger that had been prodded too much. Because of the paranoia, she would not allow my father to go into the appointment with her; however, this decision proved to be a double-sided sword since she would promptly forget everything that the doctor told her. When we would ask her what the doctor had said, she would recall a conversation that indicated she was doing great, and then snap at us if we didn’t believe her.
So our family members had to figure out how to tame this angry tiger. I started by being available to join my mother when she had an appointment with her pulmonologist in Austin. Because Mom wasn’t paranoid about me, she would let me go with her into the doctor’s office. Eventually, my dad was able to join.
We also would ask Dr. Deaton to provide duplicates of his recommendations so that we each had a copy. I broached this idea with my mom prior to the visit, noting that she would have a copy but Dad and I also would be able to help her if she forgot any critical item. She agreed. This proved important since many of her primary care physicians were in West Texas and did not know Dr. Deaton.
Another challenge became to get her to allow Dad to attend her other doctor’s appointments when they returned to West Texas. Sometimes she grudgingly gave him the green light; other times, he waited for her in the reception area.
The consequences of Mom’s health care House of Mirrors was that her health came crashing down at her last appointment with Dr. Deaton last September. As we settled into the examination room, the nurse came to check my mom’s vital signs. Watching the nurse, I noticed the grimace as she reported that my mom’s blood pressure level was 80/40. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Deaton recommended that Mom consider moving into assisted living and stop driving. At that point, I knew we had reached a crisis point; yet an hour later, my mom reported that her revered doctor had said she was doing great and she didn’t remember the conversation about assisted living or driving. Three weeks later, my mom had an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.