What do you do when your loved one is in denial about their dementia?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
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What do you do when your loved one is in denial of anything wrong. My "partner" a 76 year old male who had 2 car accidents several years ago in which he hit his head. He walked away from them and never saw a doctor but once and then refused to go back. His dementia is advanced but physically he appears ok. He is denial and yet has all the symptoms, short term memory loss, non recognition of some family, poor hygiene, loss of appetite unless very appealing, stealing and lying. In our small town he is capable of getting around, but outside of the area he is confused. What can I do or should I do? I am 76 and in fairly good condition mentally and physical condition.

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

When our loved ones are in denial about dementia or anything for that matter, it makes helping them even more challenging.

These FOUR TIPS should help.

1. Imagine yourself in your partner's shoes.

To get a better handle on what your partner is experiencing:

*Imagine that YOU had the two car accidents and likely suffered a concussion the first time. You went to see the doctor and didn't care for the outcome. Being strong, you figure you'll manage.

*While trying to hold YOUR LIFE together, you suppress increasing dementia-like symptoms thinking, I'm seventy-six, what else should I expect?

*I'm not dirty. I'll shower when I need to. Besides, I'm saving water.

*This food doesn't taste right. That's all right; I don't need to eat a lot anyway.

*At times, when it gets worse, you see yourself being torn piece-by-piece, day-by-day.

*Your partner tries to help, but this just frustrates you because you want to be strong.

*When people in town say something to you, you try to respond the best you can...if you could only remember who they were.

*The other day, you went into a store to buy two things. Seeing a few other interesting items, you put the two items in your pocket. Forgetting them, you paid for the other items and left the store. Your partner discovered them in your pocket and you felt uncomfortable because you honestly could not remember.

*Being strong, you're desperately trying to hold it together while life goes on all around you...but you seem to be falling apart.

If you can truly imagine all this, wouldn't you feel better living in denial about dementia?

2. Learn as much as you can about dementia.

This will help you to be more aware of what to expect. Although, your partner has not yet been formally diagnosed--and this should be your goal--you can take steps to enlist his cooperation.

Until then, share with trusted others in your town about your concerns; so, they are aware. For example, if he does steal something from someone, they know to call you instead of confronting him in his confused state.

3. Start slowly and with the little things.

Ask him to help you do one thing. Then ask him to help with another. Day-by-day you'll witness a change in his behavior.

Depending on how you communicate with one another, you might admit that you're feeling overwhelmed and you really need his help.

Over days, weeks, and maybe even months, your requests will build his confidence as to the things he can do. He'll also feel he's of value to you.

This takes time and patience, but what other choice do you have?

4. Get a formal assessment of your partner's condition by a geriatric physician or neurologist.

This is your goal because despite the symptoms you describe, his behaviors could be a result of something else other than dementia.

As he feels more comforted by your requests and company, you may ask if he can accompany you to one of your doctor's visits. You might consider setting an appointment to talk with your doctor about the amount of stress you're experiencing. The doctor may ask for his perception of your life at home. If he shares, let him. On a follow-up visit, he might feel comfortable exploring his own situation. Let it emerge naturally.

You want your partner to feel a sense of control over his life and activities while ensuring his safety.

Placing yourself in his shoes by learning as much as you can about dementia and enlisting his help may, over time, help you succeed in getting him to see a geriatric specialist.

For more information read: Does Denial Have an Upside?