The First 48 Hours: Alzheimer's Disease

You've just heard the diagnosis. Now what? Expert Caregiver Carol Bradley Bursack explains what you need to know and do immediately after diagnosis.

By Carol Bradley Bursack 

You first suspected something was wrong when your mother took too long to run some errands. You thought she just wanted some time to herself, but she was gone more than an hour longer than planned, and when she did return, she snapped at you for asking if everything went okay. Something seems different about her, but you shove the thought away. Then your dad takes you aside and tells you he’s worried. Your mom left the water running in the sink the other day and just walked away. When he commented on it and turned it off, she yelled at him. She said she had to leave it running so it wouldn’t freeze. It was 80 degrees outside.

You and your dad know she needs to be examined by a doctor. It takes some persuasion to get her to go, and during her appointment, she denies having the problems you have described. Finally, she breaks down and admits she is afraid - the truth is too blatant to ignore. She goes through tests and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

What do you do now?

1. Take time to accept the truth of the diagnosis.

Sure, we can hear it; we can see it. But most of us will live in denial for as long as we can. It’s human nature to not want to accept the unacceptable. It takes time to absorb the truth. When my dad went into brain surgery to correct a problem from a WWII head injury, we were very confident. It was a surgery that is nearly always successful. But, because of scar tissue or for some other reason, the surgery was a disaster. He went into surgery one man and came out another – a very damaged, demented man. With Alzheimer’s disease, the process is generally more gradual, but you will still see some shocking changes occur, seemingly overnight. Each case is different. There will be plateaus, but, after you adjust to those, you will see more changes and have more adjusting to do. Time is necessary to make each adjustment. You will need to digest each truth. Time to seek the help you need to get through the ordeal.

2. Seek all the information you can find.

Go to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America site at Along with links to many organizations, they offer help by phone. AFA’s toll-free hotline, 1-866-232-8484, provides information, counseling by licensed social workers and referrals to community resources across the nation.

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