Advice from Amy: Alzheimer's Diagnosis and a Dilemma

By Amy Dickinson | September 22nd, 2021

A medical issue leads a brother to an estranged relationship


Senior man thinking about his Alzheimer's diagnosis Image

Dear Amy: I am 58 years old. I was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s two years ago. My friends all know about my diagnosis.

My question relates to my sister. She and I had been estranged for almost a decade. Two years ago, I realized that our disagreements were water under the bridge, and we re-established a relationship. She lives several states away and has no contact with my friends.

I have never disclosed my diagnosis to her.

I don’t want her to come to the conclusion that I broke down the barriers between us because of my illness.

I did that because I love her, and not because I am staring in the face of my own mortality.

I also don’t want to bring stress into her life, she has enough of that, and she will fly into stress mode — that is who she is.

Also, because she is my “big sister” I also know that she will go into: “I’ll take care of you” mode (again, it is her nature), which is not what I need or want to be the basis for our relationship.

On the other hand, I don’t want her to feel betrayed when she inevitably learns about my illness.

Right now, I am able to hide my symptoms well.

When the day comes when this is not the case, I plan on telling her (and her children).

I am extremely torn as to whether I am making the right decision.

Am I?

– Torn


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Dear Torn: I believe you are making the right decision, because – right now, this is how you are coping with a very challenging diagnosis. You have the right to control your own health information — for whatever reason you choose.

You seem to be protecting yourself from the stress of your sister’s anticipated reaction, but I want to remind you that people do not always react in expected ways.

Now that your relationship with her is on a better footing, you might be closer to breaking this news to her, telling her explicitly in advance that she can help you the most by staying calm and by letting you call the shots.

The timing of your diagnosis and the reconnection with your sister does seem more than coincidental, and, in my opinion, awareness of your own mortality is the best reason in the world to reconnect.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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