Dr. Oz Reveals His Mom Has Alzheimer's But He Missed the Signs: 'I Blamed Myself'
By Antoinette Bueno
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Dr. Mehmet Oz is speaking out about his mother, Suna Oz, and her battle with Alzheimer's disease.
In a new interview with Maria Shriver -- who has promoted Alzheimer's awareness since her father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed in 2003 -- Oz not only shared that 81-year-old Suna has the disease, but that even though he is a doctor by profession, he missed the signs for her diagnosis. Some symptoms of the disease that usually develop slowly and worsen over time include difficulty remembering recent events, confusing time and place, problems with words and misplacing things.
"It's a chameleon of a disease," Oz says, in a preview of Monday's episode of The Dr. Oz Show. "It's slippery. It's like a snake in the grass, you sort of see the grass moving but you can't quite tell what it is, and you don't want to admit it because it's too painful."
"The idea that you would lose -- which is how I feel now -- that I'm gonna lose my mom twice," he emotionally continues. "She's already disappearing, wisps of her memories are evaporating in front of me."
The 59-year-old doctor says he's spent a lot of time processing what the diagnosis means for his mother, and also feels tremendous guilt at not having recognized the early signs.
"I love my mom dearly," he says. I am here because of her. ... And I blamed myself because I realized that if I had found it earlier, it could have helped certainly delay ... the clues were there."
On Monday, Oz shared a photo of him and his mother on Instagram and explained how he missed a few Alzheimer's symptoms.
"Hearing the official diagnosis was devastating," he writes. "But just as painful for me was the realization that the signs were there all along -- I had just been overlooking them. When my mom’s stubbornness increased, I simply blamed it on her getting older. 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."
"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 continues. "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."
In an article on his website, Oz also reveals he has the APOE4 gene that puts him at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, which 25 percent of the population actually has. However, he stresses that "genes are not your destiny." He recently saw Dr. Richard Isaacson, the director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine, to see what he can do to reduce the chances of getting the disease, and learned that belly fat can be directly related to how well one's memory functions. Currently, he's focused on lowering his cholesterol and adding high-intensity interval training to improve his associative memory.
"I want everybody to go get their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checked," he writes. "You want to get these things under control because -- believe it or not -- they can actually lower your risk for Alzheimer's disease. Research suggests that even if your genes put you at risk, lifestyle changes can make a difference."