How to Help Someone with Dementia Who is in Denial
It can be difficult to accept a new dementia diagnosis for both the person affected and their families. But what do you do if a person rejects their diagnosis entirely and refuses any further help or support?
Every person diagnosed with dementia will react to the news in their own way. In some particular cases, it may not even be beneficial to inform the person about their dementia diagnosis. But in most instances, helping a person eventually accept their diagnosis will be in their best interest as it will allow them to obtain additional help and support.
In this short article, we will provide guidance on how to help someone with dementia who is in denial. We will discuss the important differences between dementia denial and a lack of insight, along with providing some useful tips for managing either.
Remember, if you or a loved one have been recently diagnosed with dementia you do not have to cope alone. At The Good Care Group, we have over 10 years of experience in providing quality care to individuals with dementia and their families.
Why can’t a person understand or accept their dementia diagnosis?
When a person is first diagnosed with dementia, they may deny or be unable to accept their diagnosis. This denial may be caused due to a worry over potential dementia symptoms or a fear of what the future will bring.
When dealing with such dementia denial, it is important to understand why the person is refusing to accept their diagnosis in the first place. While it is true that some people are unwilling to accept their diagnosis due to worry or fear, in other instances, a person may be physically unable to acknowledge their diagnosis due to a “lack of insight”.
A lack of insight is when someone with dementia is unable to recognise the changes in their own cognition or behaviour due to the physical changes in the brain caused by dementia. While this is most common in forms of dementia that damage the frontal lobes, such as frontotemporal dementia, a lack of insight can occur in any form of dementia.
Unlike denial which usually lessens over time, a lack of insight worsens as dementia progresses.
Remember that individuals living with confusion or memory loss brought on by dementia in general have a harder time recognising their own difficulties.
Does it matter if a person doesn’t accept their dementia diagnosis?
If someone you love refuses or is unable to accept the realities of their condition, you may find it challenging or distressing. It’s important to remain compassionate and patient. A dementia diagnosis can be devastating to those affected and it may simply take the person time to accept the reality of the disease and its implications.
For most people, accepting their dementia diagnosis will be important. When a person accepts their diagnosis, it is easier for them to receive support and access to care. By accepting their diagnosis, a person can actively participate in their own care arrangements and start planning accordingly for the future.
Sometimes, an individual’s doctor or care team will decide they should not be informed about their dementia diagnosis. For example, they may feel the information would be too distressing for the person. In this situation, it’s important to avoid accidentally disclosing information about their diagnosis to the person.
For the majority of people, the positives of learning their diagnosis will outweigh the negatives. Accepting their diagnosis will make it easier for an individual to receive the care and support they need to navigate the daily challenges brought upon by dementia.
Coping with dementia denial and lack of insight
Here are some suggestions on how to deal with dementia denial and positively communicate with someone living with dementia.
In order to help your loved one understand their new diagnosis, it is important that you learn as much as you can about dementia yourself. There are many resources out there such as literature and videos which can help you and your loved ones absorb and process the information.
While sharing facts about dementia may help someone overcome their denial, it is important not to overwhelm the person with too many facts or information all at once. If the person is not initially receptive to such information, leave it somewhere where they are able to access it once they are ready.
If the person with dementia is your parent, they may not react positively to hearing news of their diagnosis from you. An older person has spent their life in a position of authority over you and they may feel as if you are trying to control or infringe upon their independence.
In these situations, it may be beneficial to seek out outside support. If it is your parent with dementia that refuses help, they may respond more positively if the conversation is breached by a person in a position of authority, such as their family doctor or therapist.
Remember that you do not have to handle the situation alone. There are many services such as hotlines, support groups, and creative therapies that can help individuals living with dementia and their families. Here are some resources that may be beneficial to you:
If the person with dementia is adamant that they do not have dementia or do not want to discuss it, then do not force the issue. It’s normal to feel frustrated or upset if you feel your loved one is ignoring the issue, but confronting them may create distance between the two of you. If emotions become heightened, remain calm and approach the subject another day.
Dementia care experts recommend stepping into the reality of someone that is living with dementia, rather than trying to correct them. If your loved one insists that they do not have dementia, do not persist.
Remaining positive about the future is one of the best ways that you can help someone overcome any difficulties they may have accepting their diagnosis. It’s normal to feel anger, fear, or worry about the future after being diagnosed with dementia. While it is always important to remain honest, staying calm and maintaining a positive attitude will help your loved ones through this difficult time.
Be sure to gently remind the person that dementia care has advanced significantly and many people go on to live long and happy lives after their diagnosis.
Look after yourself
Caring for someone with dementia can be draining even for family and friends. It may feel easier to push your own emotions to the side as you care for your loved one, but you risk burning out as a carer. Make sure to make your own wellbeing a priority and seek additional support if you need to.
Planning for the future
When someone is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition like dementia, it is important to start planning for their short and long term future. Many people fear that a dementia diagnosis means that they will eventually have to leave their home and move into a residential nursing or care home.
Dedicated live-in care allows individuals with dementia to stay in their much-loved homes while receiving the dementia care they need. A professional and well-matched carer will move into your home and support you through a variety of everyday tasks such as discreet and sensitive personal care, planning and cooking meals, and managing and administering medications.
At The Good Care Group, we have been innovating live-in dementia care for over 10 years. Our professional and compassionate carers are well-versed in a wide range of best dementia care practices designed to reassure your loved ones, reduce stress and anxiety and facilitate communication, even if your loved one is in denial about their dementia.
We adopt a blended approach to the delivery of dementia care that involves collaborating closely with healthcare professionals, academic bodies, and leading dementia charities. Each of our professional carers is trained in the SPECAL method which allows them to communicate efficiently, reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce behaviours that challenge in individuals with dementia.