Alzheimer's effect on your familyAlzheimer’s effect on your Family can be a complex set of issues to wade through to reach favorable outcomes for both the family and the person with the diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia affects roughly 25% of seventy-year-old adults. Until the condition becomes severe, those affected show few signs, and it usually escapes detection by neighbors and family.

There is such a stigma about Alzheimer’s disease that neither the patient nor their spouse speaks about it; instead they keep it hidden or deny its presence. Families ignore the symptoms out of embarrassment, or a fear of being ostracized. When the disease affects a widow or widower, the individual becomes even more isolated and likely to avoid contact with family members. When it occurs in a married couple it can have a major effect on the dynamics of the relationship.

One such situation occurred with one of my patients a few years ago. For many years, I’d been seeing Herbert regularly to treat his hypertension and arthritis. We had a good rapport but I’d been noticing some minor memory slips. The problem did not become clear to me until Herbert’s wife told me what it was like at home. She confided in me and asked that I not divulge to her husband how I had become aware of his memory impairment. “He has always been in charge, or thought he was in charge of the family,” she told me, “and he would be upset and angry about losing his place of dominance.

It made me think, how would anyone feel about giving up his or her position within the family structure? I know I wouldn’t be happy about any shift within my own family. I realized that there is always a delicate balance within a family’s structure that can be disrupted or intensified with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. This change in the dynamics of a relationship is yet another obstacle to think about when making a diagnosis. The disruption in a comfortable status quo can add to a resistance to change.

What impact has Alzheimer’s had on your family structure?

What outcomes or solutions have you found works for your situation that you might share?

We need to keep the conversation going, every situation is different. Feel free to reach out and ask me your burning questions.

Tune in to my next blog where I will examine the case of couple with Alzheimer’s and how they resisted change.

To a long and healthy life,

David Bernstein, MD

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