What To Do if Your Parent Is in Denial of Their Dementia Diagnosis
Receiving a dementia diagnosis is incredibly difficult. There is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s. Despite more awareness being raised around the disease, a stigma remains. Knowing the disease is degenerative and that you will only get worse with time is discouraging and heartbreaking.
Some meet their dementia diagnosis with denial. It is their way of coping with the difficulty. If they don’t accept it’s true, maybe it won’t happen. Of course we know this isn’t logical, but we’ve all been in denial about difficult things in our lives hoping the denial will make them go away.
In addition, someone with dementia may be in denial because the disease is already taking its toll. They can’t see what others around them can, that their memory is failing them or their behavior is changing. This is known as anosognosia or “lack of insight.” It is the inability to see your own illness. This can be difficult for caregivers especially. It is hard to care for your loved one if he doesn’t think he needs help.
How to help a loved one who is in denial of their dementia
Your goal as the caregiver for someone who is living with dementia is to help them move toward acceptance of their diagnosis, adapt to their new normal and live as well as possible as their disease progresses.
Here are a few suggestions for how you can do this as you navigate your parent’s new normal.
1. Educate yourself.
Educating yourself as much as possible regarding your parent’s diagnosis is helpful for you and your loved one. The better you can understand your mother or father’s type and level of dementia, the better you can understand them, what they’re feeling and why. This is crucial to be able to empathize with them as they navigate a new reality.
In addition, understanding what’s happening in their brain and what kind of care they will need will help you equip yourself and your loved one for what’s the come.
2. Don’t argue.
Arguing with your parent about their diagnosis will not convince them it is real. They will just grow more confused and upset. Instead, be kind and supportive. Show your parent you are on their team. Build rapport because you will need it in the months and years to come if you remain their caregiver. They need to trust you and the decisions you make about their care. This trust needs to be built early on from day one of the diagnosis, so your relationship can remain strong, and your mother or father can know they are in good hands.
3. Encourage them to do what they love.
Don’t center your parent’s life around their diagnosis. They are still a human being with interests and a life story. Encourage them to keep doing what they love.
Do they like hiking? Find a trail you can visit together.
Do they enjoy cooking? Prepare a meal together.
Remember who your mother or father was before the diagnosis. That person hasn’t gone away. Now more than ever, they will probably need help bringing that person out of them.
People living with dementia and Alzheimer’s can still live fulfilling lives. The stigma around the disease suggests otherwise, but don’t fall into that thinking. Let your mom or dad continue to be the fun, outgoing, intellectual or adventurous person you’ve always known them to be.
4. Prioritize safety.
No matter what, the safety of your loved one comes first. If your dad is wandering out of the house and endangering himself, you need to consider what level of care is required. If your mom is still driving but getting lost regularly or gets into an accident, it is probably time for her to stop driving. She will likely be in denial about this, but that doesn’t matter. Her safety comes first. Do what you need to do to ensure your loved one is in a safe environment.
5. Get professional help.
Even if your mother or father is in denial about having dementia, you don’t have to be. You can take action on their behalf as far as getting advance directives in place and establishing guardianship for health and financial decisions.
Create a long-term plan of care with your other family members after speaking to your parent’s doctor.
Decide who will pay for what, if and when to look into memory care facilities and what actions you will take as the disease progresses.
Having a plan in place will ensure your loved one can live as comfortably as possible with the best possible care.
In many ways, receiving a dementia diagnosis requires grieving, and the first step of grief is denial. Ultimately the goal is for someone to move toward acceptance of their diagnosis so they can create a plan of care they feel comfortable with and that ensures they live the fullest life possible as they live with the disease. But acceptance may not happen overnight. Grief is a process. Your loved one will need to move through that process at their own pace and in their own way.
Give them space.
Let them grieve.
Do what you can.
Plan what you can.
But most importantly, be there for your loved one. Don’t give up on them. Let them know that when they are ready to accept their diagnosis, they will not be alone. You will be there to help them every step of the way.