How Families Can Deal With Alzheimers


When 60-year old LuPita Gutierrez-Parker found herself struggling to use computer software that she knew intimately, it was a red flag that she need to be evaluated for cognitive impairment. This was followed by a need to read passages in documents over and over again and a gradual loss of her command of language: “Why did I just say that? That’s not grammatically correct,” she would think. ‘That wasn’t me. I have a very strong vocabulary’ I was a very articulate person.”

 Yet it took her another year or so to bring up the topic with her primary care physician. 

 The delay in seeking answers to cognitive decline is not surprising, according to a recent survey included in the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. “The survey found a really troubling underuse of cognitive assessments during the annual healthcare checkup.”  The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that every senior should receive a brief cognitive assessment at their first Medicare annual wellness visit at age 65, and the exams should be a regular part of their ongoing annual care. 

 Although physicians say that they know the assessment if important, fewer than half are saying that it’s a part of their protocol. A good bit might be a lack of clarity over who should initiate the conversation. Often the seniors are waiting for their doctor to recommend testing, and the doctors are waiting for families to report symptoms and to request the assessment.

 Although it was not easy, Gutierrez-Parker is grateful that she was able to be reassured, “knowing that they finally put a label on what was wrong with me.”  She encourages others who are worried about their mental status to reach out to a doctor for help: “I would say to people who have an opportunity to find out what is wrong with them, to do it. It gives you more opportunities to get your house in order; do advance directives, your will, even your funeral. It’s peace of mind, and it takes that load off your family.”

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Colin Austin