It’s a common situation to be in. Your loved one may be starting to show signs of dementia but they refuse to see their GP.
If you are worried about their memory and their cognitive function in general, you may have tried to talk to them and express your concerns, only to find they are in denial that anything is wrong. Even if they aren’t in denial, they may still refuse to see their GP. So what can you do if you feel they need to see their doctor? We asked Professor June Andrews, a former nurse who was Director of the University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre for over a decade, for her advice on this delicate situation.
‘If you think a person has dementia, but you can’t persuade them to see their GP, it’s difficult,’ says Professor Andrews. ‘You know that there is medication that can help some people manage the symptoms, but it only works in the earlier stages of the disease. You know that there are benefits and supports that the person might be entitled to, along with you as their carer, but they can’t obtain these benefits without a diagnosis. And you know that it is urgent at this early stage to get the person’s affairs in order.
‘Yet the fear of dementia is so great that people may be hard to persuade. What is making you think they might have dementia? How you tackle the question depends a lot on what symptom is bothering you or them. If there is memory loss, you need to get the person to go to the GP urgently because it might not be dementia. It might be an infection, or a blood problem, or something quite different. One helpful thing to suggest is that because there are reversible causes of these symptoms, they must get them seen, and sorted, and be able to get on with life.
‘But some of the possible symptoms of dementia, such as aggression and agitation might make it nearly impossible to persuade and unwise to argue.
‘If a GP does not seem to be taking your concerns seriously, there is always the option taking the person to see another GP. However, if you want to work with the one you know, the most fundamental thing is for you to know as much as possible about dementia, and what services are available.
‘I have experience of GPs telling me that they know it is dementia, but there is no benefit to the patient in knowing, so they don’t tell them,’ adds Professor Andrews. ‘Now, I must emphasize that this is changing fast, and mostly you will be listened to, and helped.
‘Knowing as much as you can is vital, because if you succeed in getting the person to see the GP and they agree it’s dementia but they don’t want to do anything, it may be because they don’t know want the person to know. They are extremely busy and new cases don’t crop up that often. Also, it is hard for them to know what support is out there, in the Age UK, or Alzheimer’s Society, or other charitable organisations. This is a complicated and sometimes delicate issue, if the GP does not understand the carer’s right to know, or mistakes confidentiality with secrecy. I have some strategies in my book ‘Dementia: the One-Stop Guide’ which may help.’
Dementia Help’s founder Christina Neal says: ‘If you are struggling to persuade your loved on to see their GP about your concerns, then you could take them to the doctor for something else, such as a ‘flu jab. I took my mum to see her doctor for a routine health check and while she was there, I took advantage of the situation and voiced my concerns about her memory and general confusion to the GP. I felt awful saying all these things about how vague and confused she was in front of her, but I knew I had no choice. That appointment led a brain scan that resulted in her diagnosis. If you can’t persuade the person to see the GP at all, you could write to their GP and voice your concerns, being concise but listing specific examples of what makes you think they may have dementia. At least when they do see the GP for something else, your concerns will be on record and you can discuss them.’