According to the World Health Organization, there are over 50 million people living with dementia. It is the leading cause of a loss of independence in seniors and one of the hardest diseases to accept.
So what do you do when your aging parent refuses to admit there is a problem?
Dealing With a Parent Who Denies Dementia Symptoms
Is Dad or Mom having difficulty remembering appointments or names? Or getting lost coming home from the grocery store? You may notice it is becoming more difficult to have a conversation as your parent becomes confused and can’t find the words to finish a sentence.
The signs of dementia are obvious to you, but when you mention the possibility to your parent, they deny the dementia symptoms and refuse to get help. What can you do?
It’s important to understand the two main reasons why a parent would deny dementia symptoms:
Anosognosia is simply a word that means a lack of awareness that you have an impairment. This can be part of the brain damage that occurs with dementia.
As the brain changes physically, the part of the brain that would be able to understand that there is a problem is damaged.
If your parent has anosognosia they can’t understand the presence of dementia. That is just what it is. You will not be able to convince your parent of the dementia symptoms that you see.
Many people have an extreme fear of being diagnosed with dementia. Can you imagine anything scarier than being told that you will progressively decline and lose your ability to remember those around you? That you will lose control of every part of your life?
Sidnee Peck, from the Smart Brain Aging website, states that admitting that you have dementia makes it real.
This fear can be a psychological coping mechanism. If your parent does not acknowledge that there is a problem, they may feel that the problem does not have to be dealt with.
How You Can Handle Dementia Denial
Your parent does not have to accept that they have dementia for you to help them. Getting a diagnosis of dementia is more important for you as a caregiver to be able to best help your parent.
Alzheimer’s Disease International states that getting an early diagnosis of dementia will:
- Allow you to have the time to take advantage of therapies that may enhance their quality of life and slow the progression of the disease
- Give both you and your parent time to make decisions about financial and legal issues
- Prepare for the changes that will come as the disease progresses
Use the following steps to help guide you and your parent through a diagnosis of dementia:
- Collect detailed information. Educate yourself on what the symptoms of dementia are and then make a list of the signs and symptoms that you have noticed. Make note especially of any changes that you have seen over the last year or two. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends listing when the symptoms began and how frequently they occur. Ask your parent if you can accompany them to their next doctor’s appointment and let them know you want to talk to the doctor about what is normal aging.
- Encourage your parent to keep track of changes in their communication, daily functions and memories. Let your parent know that there are often other causes for changes in memory and that seeing the doctor can allow you to rule out treatable conditions.
- If your parent can accept the diagnosis or is aware of the dementia symptoms, be honest and supportive. Many people in the early stages of dementia continue to live a happy and fulfilling life for years with proper support.
- Start small. Your first steps will be to educate yourself on the signs of dementia, to keep track of changes that you notice and to have your parent see a doctor.
- Tell your parent that you are on their team and that you want what is best for them. Be aware of what the typical tests and questions that your doctor will offer.
Ways to Offer Help
Even after seeing a doctor and receiving a diagnosis of dementia your parent may still refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem.
Your job is not to convince your parent of the problem but to focus on what you need to do to keep your parent healthy and safe.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a tool called the “Alzheimer’s Navigator” that helps you to set up a personalized action plan and connect you with local resources.
You can also call the 24-hour Alzheimer’s helpline to speak with a Care Consultant. A trained counselor or geriatric care manager can help you address safety concerns like driving.
You can’t force your parent to accept the symptoms of dementia that you see. Part of dementia is often an inability to remember or recognize the problem. Realizing this can help you to feel more compassion and less frustration with your parent.
What you can do is educate yourself on dementia symptoms, take your parent to see the doctor and plan for what you will do to help keep your parent safe.
What strategies have you used to deal with a parent who denies dementia symptoms? What has worked and what didn’t work? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.