Dear Donna:
My parents live about four hours away from us in Saginaw, Michigan. We try to get there to visit about every other month, but we have young children who are involved in sports and many other after school activities. It makes our schedule during the school year more than a little crazy!

Lately I’ve noticed that my mother is trying to discourage us from visiting. She says she knows how busy we are and that they are doing just fine on their own. But when we were there over the weekend, I felt like there was more going on than she let on.

At first I thought maybe she wasn’t feeling well. After a few hours, however, I realized there was something different with my dad. I heard him up during the night prowling around the house. The next day he seemed quiet and even a little confused.

When I questioned my mom about it, she denied there was anything wrong. She claimed he hadn’t been sleeping well because of a new medication so he was tired.

I think he has Alzheimer’s disease. My husband and I aren’t sure what to do next. Do you have any advice?


When a Spouse is Hiding a Partner’s Dementia

Dear Anna:
It sounds like you might be right to be a little concerned about your dad’s behavior, but I wouldn’t necessarily leap to the conclusion that he has Alzheimer’s.

If he is taking a new medication, it might be a side effect just like your mother indicated. Or it could even be another issue such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency or an infection of some kind. On the other hand, it could be something more serious like Alzheimer’s.

It isn’t uncommon for spouses of many years to hide one another’s symptoms from adult children. They do so in a variety of ways including:

  • Discouraging family visitors
  • Finishing a spouse’s sentences when they are struggling for words
  • Making excuses for unusual behaviors

A proper diagnosis is important no matter what the condition. If it is just an infection, a dose of antibiotics might return your father to his old self again. The same for a vitamin deficiency – correcting the problem might be fairly simple.

The best person to make the call is your dad’s primary care physician. If you sit down and explain to your mom that it might not be something serious, she may be less fearful and more cooperative in scheduling a physical exam for your father.

Best of luck to you and your parents, Anna! I hope your father’s doctor can help you get him back on a healthy track.