How does one deal with someone who's memory is declining and insists nothing is wrong or has changed?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

my mother is 97 1/2 and is in general good health..she manages her own medicine, phone calls, and still reads the newspaper..Lately, tho' she's having memory problems where she forgets where she put things, accusing staff (she's in an assisted living facility) of 'shopping' in her room...spends time in her room going through bank statements and or course doesn't remember what she did 2-3 years ago...she's accused me (her primary caregiver-daughter) of writing checks on her account..(I don't have access to her checks) and forgets what she's told and sometimes is confused by what is told to her...She insists when we bring this up we think she's senile...I don't know how to handle things when she feels we are 'ganging up on her' we're trying to make things easier for her but she insists we're not helping her..How does one deal with someone who's memory is declining and insists nothing is wrong or has changed?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

It is truly difficult to handle obvious declining memory and denial from the person who is showing cognitive decline. The difficulty is compounded when the elderly person in question is a parent!

I would strongly suggest you try searching behind what she is saying and grasping onto the feeling she is experienceing at the time. When she says "you think I'm senile" she is most likely saying "I am feeling senile; I am no longer in control; I am misplacing and losing things and I probably need someone else to take care of my accounts." Imagine how mom feels when these realities usurp her emotional state. In fact, your parent is not really being offensive although it must certainly feel that way to you and other family members. In reality she is being defensive -- defending herself against the world she is currently living in that is becoming much less familiar and manageable with each passing day.

If you have not already had thorough neurological and physical exams, I suggest you schedule these soon. Frequently, memory loss and other failing cognitive issues are the result of an underlying medical problem. Once addressed, the elderly person may function at a less confused level.

If a neurological workup shows a progressive dementia such as Alzheimer's, there are a host of caring tips to deal with the kind of 'paranoia' that often accompanies dementing illnesses. Check for a helpful reading list and appropriate ways to interact with a parent in denial. I'm sure you have already discovered that arguing or correcting only worsens an alreadyexisting negative interaction. It is often more fruitful to apologize for what she percieves to be your transgression and hope for many more positive times together without anger and accusations. She is slowly losing herself and she knows it. For now, your mom's denial is her way of dealing with both her memory loss and not being able to begin or complete tasks that were once quite easy.

She needs to know that you and your family will always be there for her, regardless of her loss of function.

Be well and do take care of you!