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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published March 20 2011

Bursack: Father’s loyalty a problem

Dear Carol: My dad has been caring for my mother for years, filling in the blanks in her memory, making excuses for her sometimes bizarre behavior, and just plain living in denial. I’ve talked to them both repeatedly about getting Mom to a doctor to see if there is help, to no avail. Dad can’t keep this up. I see his health failing from worry and from the hard work of taking care of her. Yet, he won’t give in unless she does. What do I do? – Stanley

Dear Stanley: Most of us have a tendency to deny as much of the aging process as we can. It’s just no fun to feel ourselves “slipping,” in some area. Yet, it’s a fact that early detection of a disease is nearly always better than letting symptoms go on without diagnosis and treatment, when possible.

Most likely, your dad is struggling emotionally as much as he is physically, but he feels he is being loyal to your mom by covering for her. This is, sadly, not uncommon for long-married couples.

Both of your parents need to know that your mother’s symptoms could be from an infection, such as a UTI, or from medications that are interacting in a negative fashion. There could be other reasons, as well, such as blood sugar problems. Even vitamin deficiencies can cause dementia symptoms. Only a good medical checkup can uncover these issues, and if possible, reverse them. Try to approach both of your parents with the idea that a checkup is necessary for overall health.

If your mom has a check-up and the physical tests turn out fine, the doctor will want to test for dementia. She may be referred to a specialist. This, of course, means another appointment, and even more problems with getting her to keep that appointment. I’d contact the Alzheimer’s Association and ask for help at www.alz.org or call the Information Helpline at (800) 232-0851. They hear about this problem often and will have some good tips for you.

If the diagnosis is dementia, inquire about medications to help hold off some symptoms for a time. Also, help your dad understand that his own health is at risk if he doesn’t get some help caring for her. Help him look into in-home health agencies so he can have some time away, or even adult day services, where your mom can be cared for and have activities that interest her, while you dad gets used to her absence, and perhaps finds things he’s neglected doing for himself.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.