Dear Family Resource,
My husband’s parents have been married for 60 years, live together in a small apartment, and are totally devoted to each other. Over the last few years, we’ve noticed my mother-in-law having some memory problems which have gotten progressively worse over the last year. If that’s not enough, my father-in-law refuses to take her to the doctor because he’s afraid she might have Alzheimer’s, and if she does, he’s afraid they’ll be separated. The result is she’s not getting the medical help she needs. Do you have a suggestion for us?
~Powerless to Help
Your in-laws need you, so I suggest you and your husband grab a few power bars and head on over.
In all seriousness, it’s important that your mother-in-law sees her doctor, and with the right approach, I think you can convince your father-in-law. Here are some suggestions of things to say: many people develop memory problems as they age; sometimes memory loss can be caused by medical issues such as dehydration or a urinary tract infection and only a doctor can rule this out; there are medications that only a doctor can prescribe, that can help slow down or treat memory loss; and that his beloved wife needs a proper diagnosis to see what interventions may help. You might also suggest that he not make assumptions about what will happen if his wife does receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Tell him that such a diagnosis is not the end of the world – or their lives together – and that there are plenty of people with dementia still living fulfilling lives at home, with their spouses. It’s really important that your father-in-law understands that ignoring the problem will not make his wife get better, and it could contribute to her getting worse.
At the same time you’re having this conversation with your in-laws about the diagnosis; consider talking to them about what their long-term goals are – where they want to live as they age and what advance directives such as powers of attorney and living wills they have or should have. Let them know that whatever their decision, you will support them.
If you approach your father-in-law with a desire to assist and support him, not take-over, my bet is that he’ll agree to the doctor’s appointment. Your in-laws are lucky to have you.