The cardiac surgeon and host of "The Dr. Oz Show" wrote on Instagram and his website Monday that he was caught off guard after learning his mother, Suna, 81, had been diagnosed with the irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly erodes memory and thinking skills.
"Hearing the official diagnosis was devastating,'' he wrote. "But just as painful for me was the realization that the signs were there all along — I had just been overlooking them."
Oz, who talked about the emotional diagnosis on his show Monday, began to see small changes in his mother's behavior that he later realized were symptoms of her condition, particularly after his father's death at 93 in February.
"When my mom’s stubbornness increased, I simply blamed it on her getting older,'' he wrote. "My sister noticed she started doing her makeup differently for the first time in 60 years, but kept it to herself.
"When my mom started giving some of her belongings away to people she barely knew, I thought she was just trying to lighten her load following my father’s passing. But these seemingly subtle changes were in fact the first indicators of Alzheimer’s."
When Oz saw those changes, he denied anything worrisome was happening because he didn't want to believe it, he said on Tuesday. He's been overwhelmed by the thousands of comments he's received from people going through a similar experience.
"I had no idea how many of us are going through this: 16 million Americans are taking care of their loved ones — about 6 million people with Alzheimer's," he told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb.
"It's the same story: They lose their truth, as our family did, because who wants to be the one who puts their hand up and say, 'There's something wrong with mom.'"
Oz outlined six symptoms to monitor for Alzheimer's disease if a loved one starts exhibiting them.
- challenges in planning
- confusing time and place
- difficulty completing tasks
- trouble understanding visuals
- misplacing things and not being able to retrace steps
- problems with words: Oz's mom was always articulate, but instead of using the word "beautiful," for example, she started to say "more prettier."
While confronting a loved one who potentially has Alzheimer's can be emotional and difficult, Oz stressed it's also crucial as far as slowing the effects of the disease.
"It was painful to admit that my mother’s health was declining, but doing so allowed us to get her help as soon as possible,'' he wrote on Instagram. "You have the power to speak up and say something if you suspect any of the above symptoms in a loved one. Doing so may be uncomfortable, but it just might help slow down the Alzheimer’s progression in someone you love."
Oz, 59, also revealed that after getting tested at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine following his mother's diagnosis, he learned he has a copy of the APOE4 gene that puts him at a higher risk for getting Alzheimer’s himself.
He was instructed to lower his cholesterol and add high-intensity interval training to his exercise regimen to improve his associative memory. Reducing waist size is key, he said: "A big belly means a small brain."
Oz noted that lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels can lower a person's risk of Alzheimer's disease. He also suggested taking a cognitive face-name placement test online. Meditation and prayer also work because these activities exercise the brain in a different way.
"Research suggests that even if your genes put you at risk, lifestyle changes can make a difference,'' he wrote on his website.