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Heather Coakley, PsyD, M.S.W.
Ask the Expert Psychologist

February 2nd, 2008
I'm concerned that my dad has Alzheimer's. He is forgetting events he would have never missed before, he's forgetting to eat, and isn't his usual clean self. I'm afraid to know the truth, and I'm afraid I might also get it.

Dear Concerned,

I can see why you are concerned, however ignorance is not bliss in this instance. There are different kinds of dementia, and then there are declines that are still considered “normal aging”. There also could be other reasons for your dad’s forgetfulness and unclenliness. However, if it turns out that he is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease there are medications, such as Aricept and Donzepil, that may be helpful to him. Therefore, getting him to a doctor for an evaluation is a must. People with Alzheimer’s do better in the long term if they have early intervention. I understand that it’s scary to see your father acting out of character and not doing well. I hear that it’s making you wonder if you’ll end up the same way when you get to be his age. Although there is evidence of a genetic link, Alzheimer’s is not like a cold where you can just “get it.” Although I can certainly understand the fear, there are many families in which someone has Alzheimer’s disease and no one else ends up with it. You don’t want to spend too much time worrying about something that may never happen. However, it is good that you’re noticing changes in him and are monitoring how he’s doing. It’s also helpful to know some warning signs so you can determine if your father is getting worse. I’d like to refer you to a short article outlining some symptoms that people with Alzheimer’s struggle with, “Does your loved one have Alzheimer’s Disease”. Again, in light of his current symptoms and your very legitimate concerns, I suggest the two of you contact his primary care physician to schedule an appointment and ask for some appropriate referrals in the event that he might have Alzheimer’s disease. If, after an evaluation, it turns out to be Alzheimer’s there are many interventions that can be tried, from medications to assistive devices in the home to residential facilities, that can help his situation and ease your worries.

Good luck to you both,
Dr. Coakley

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