How to Help Family and Friends Get Past Denial About Dementia

Do relatives or friends seem in denial about your loved one's dementia? Remember that they don't share the front-row seat you have on changes taking place.

What can help:

  • Point out that people with early dementia often go on "social autopilot" during brief encounters. They may seem perfectly normal because they rely on long-honed social graces and habits (making small talk, reminiscing, eating and cleaning up, watching sports and reacting appropriately). Even over a weekend, for some people, deficits might not be apparent to someone who doesn't want to see them.

  • Invite someone having doubts to spend longer periods of time with your loved one to gain a fuller picture of memory loss and other cognitive changes.

  • Help them understand that cognitive changes aren't simply a function of "old age" by passing along articles about what dementia is and how it compares to normal memory loss.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

about 3 years ago, said...

Love and Hugs to you.

about 3 years ago, said...

This is one of the first things that happen when friends, neighbors and relatives are told (in private, of course) about our loved ones' memory lapses. When they spend some time with him/her, they will know, so be patient.

about 3 years ago, said...

You have helped me so much with different topics. Thank you.

over 5 years ago, said...

This is so true. People don't want to believe that my husband has dementia because he is still able to "put on a show" of normal behavior when he is around others. However, at home, it is a different story. Our son and I get to see the "real picture"" and feel the brunt of his harsh words, constant criticism, etc. It makes it very hard to communicate to others just how bad it is when he can act normal and bluff his way thru social situations. People look at me as though what I'm saying is untrue and that I'm exaggerating.

over 6 years ago, said...

My mother in law lived with my husband and myself for over a year before her dementia required she be placed in an aged care facility. Despite three doctors diagnosing dementia, her being in a dementia ward and when she passed away recently and the death certificate saying "dementia", her daughter still insisted her mother didn't have dementia. My effort to help my sister in law and her husband be aware of her mother's deterioration led to abusive emails to me and being ignored and disliked by all members of the family. Nobody else volunteered to care for my mother in law and in the year and more she lived with us not one of her grandchildren visited. Her daughter visited twice in that year. My husband had little patience with his mother and was not willing to give me time out on a weekend. I truly thought I was going to crack towards the end, however when my mother in law went into care I still visited her, usually weekly, took her out for lunch and drives and still managed her affairs. When she died, her daughter and granddaughters were "distraught" and even sobbed on my shoulder. Since then they have not contacted me. I was not my husband's first wife and only knew my mother in law for a few years when I offerred to care for her. I found it really confronting to listen to all the terrible stories my mother in law told me about the various members of the family. Also my mother in law had a public persona of dear little old lady (that is why I offerred to care for her, and her need) yet she could be totally different at home. I truly did my best for her but I battled with having resentment towards other family members who wouldn't help in any way at all yet constantly criticized. It was the most amazing experience. I found I was unable to talk about anything else than my mother in law, and I felt so guilty when she had to go into care. Logically I knew it wasn't only my job, yet I felt I had offerred to care for her and should have been able to continue. I now know this had become impossible. She was incontinent in all ways, she was unsteady on her feet, she fabricated pain and illness (which I understand may have been real to her) she was moody, self focussed (also understandable) and was really only happy if I was giving her a hundred per cent of my time. She was resentful if my own family came to visit and I had to give my attention to others. The relief I feel that I no longer have to visit her each week is immense. Not only did my husband not want to visit or help but he berated me for what I did. The whole thing seems to have been one huge nightmare. Amazingly enough, my husband and I still have a loving relationship, yet his relationship with his mother had deteriorated long before I came on the scene. I was not totally aware of this when I offerred to care for her and he really should have said then and there that he would not want his mother to live with us. Maybe he also thought it was all going to be manageable. With other family support and a different attitude from my husband it would have been far different. I wonder now why I didn't only suggest that my sister in law and myself have a month on and a month off and share the task. It is so easy to be smarter in hindsight. When my mother in law went into care my brother in law accused me of abandoning her like an unwanted pet. Where were they??? Talking to the Director of Nursing at the aged care facility I learned it was common for the primary carer to get little help from others and often criticism and abuse as I received. I know in my heart that I did everything I could, I know totally that it was impossible to continue and I know that my mother in law got the best possible care in the hostel from trained staff who were wonderful right up until her death. I had a great relationship with them and it was very clarifying for the staff to be aware of the reality of my mother in law's personality and true condition. I felt, at last, at last, someone understands and knows the truth. We survived this but it was incredibly hard at times.