When my mom came to live with me, I changed her primary care physician to my own personal doctor. His office was near-by and I was already familiar with office and staff.
Shortly afterwards, I phoned for an appointment so Dr. Smith could meet Mom and assess her stage of Alzheimer’s. Not wanting to speak of Mom’s symptoms in front of her during the appointment, I requested the nurse give Dr. Smith a note of my intentions. I had already transfered her medical records and knew he could glance over those prior to our appointment.
Fortunately, Mom was having a good day when we arrived for her appointment. We had entered the stage of Alzheimer’s where there were good days and bad days, and catastrophic days, so I felt fortunate that this was to be a “good day.”
Without waiting for me, Mom stepped forward, shook hands and introduced herself to Dr. Smith as soon as he entered the small examining room. In an almost flirtatious manner she answered Dr. Smith’s questions and kept a conversation running for several minutes. She told him brightly, “she’d never been hospitalized, she’d never had any kind of surgery, no heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s in her family, she was extremely healthy, and extremely feisty for her age.” She asked about his life and they were both surprised to learn that they had many family and acquaintances shared in common. Dr. Smith spoke of an “out of state” relative and learned that Mom not only knew his relative but had carried on a mail correspondence with that person for many years.
Listening over my shoulder I was more than pleased, I kept my head down and continued to fill in the blanks of Mom’s “actual” medical history on the form the nurse had given me.
I could tell by the chit-chat behind me that Dr. Smith was impressed, considering Mom’s stage of Alzheimer’s her vocabulary was great and recollection of events even better. I had rarely met another Alzheimer’s patient who spoke as well as Mom while in the later stages of disease. I hoped Dr. Smith was making mental notes. I’m thinking all this chatter can only help in his assessment later.
Finally, Dr. Smith turned his back to Mom and spoke to me, “She’s a delight. You know–“ he lowered his voice so only I could hear, “some of these doctors make mistakes. It’s easy to slap a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s on someone who happened to have a slip of memory on a single day.”
He took my hand. “Your mom is fine. I wouldn’t worry about any Alzheimer’s, either. Her memory is just fine,” he assured me.
My jaw dropped! I was speechless.
Dr. Smith had just implied that mom’s physician had made a mistake–or intentionally given her a false diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. I was astounded. My mother had totally fooled him with 10 minutes of gibberish that didn’t contain a single word of truth.
I stood and handed Dr. Smith the record of Mom’s medical history that I had just filled out–and waited while he glanced through it. After several long minutes–his jaw dropped.
My Mother’s Medical History included:
- Hospitalization for Gallbladder Surgery
- Hospitalization for Hysterectomy
- Hospitalization for Breast Cancer/Mastectomy
- Hospitalized for 2 childbirths/I was born in my grandmother’s house
- Her sister died from Heart Disease and a brother from Alzheimer’s
My mother had no memory of any of these things. And was totally certain she had spoke the truth to Dr. Smith. When an Alzheimer’s patient can no longer remember a past event, they invent a new one.
Mom had never met, nor was she familiar with any of the people connected with Dr. Smith, including his “out of state” relative that Mom had claimed mail correspondence with. She was only agreeing with him. When she saw the approval in his eye–she made up more stories. Much like a child, she wanted to be right, she wanted to be normal, she wanted to pretend that she could remember.
As you can see from my story, not all doctors are wise to this ability of the Alzheimer’s patient to invent or change history. Doctors know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they can give the tests for Alzheimer’s and they can diagnose Alzheimers. But you must live with an Alzheimer’s patient to know what they do and how they behave. Until you’ve lived with an Alzheimer’s patient, been a caregiver for that person, you have no idea what it is like to be an Alzheiemr’s patient. And how easy they can fool you.